A genetic study has found that the Florida Everglades have become home to many invasive species that are slowly destroying the local flora and fauna, reports The Guardian.
Recently, a hybrid super-predator has been found slithering its way through the wilderness, successfully bumping the American alligator out of top spot as the region’s most apex predator. The genetically blended python is thought to be better adapted to the subtropical climate and capable of expanding its range more rapidly.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists studied 400 snakes caught in the area in 2001 and studied them for 10 years. They found that the deadly Burmese python, first released into the region in the 1980s after a family decided they no longer wanted to keep a small number of them as pets, was no longer genetically pure and that the snakes studied presented a “a tangled family tree.” The genetic makeup of the python was found in 13 different species of snakes.
The hybrid super-predator found in the Everglades is smaller and quicker than its larger cousin. It lives on higher, dryer ground, as opposed to the Burmese, which thrives in wet environments. The researchers of the study believe that the cross-breeding occurred before the snakes were even released in Florida.
Margaret Hunter, lead author of the USGS report, spoke about the findings, writes The Guardian.
“When two species come together they each have a unique set of genetic traits and characteristics they use to increase their survival and their unique habitats and environments. You bring these different traits together and sometimes the best of those traits will be selected in the offspring. That allows for the best of both worlds in the Everglades, it helps them to adapt to this new ecosystem potentially more rapidly.”
Hunter also expressed her fear that the discovery of the hybrid snake could hamper the efforts to capture and eliminate up to 150,000 pythons in the area. The growing population of pythons has destroyed populations of native species, including bobcats, foxes, rabbits, and raccoons.
Wildlife officials have admitted that they are fighting a losing battle against the snakes. Past efforts have included snake-sniffing dogs, radio transmitter tracking devices designed to lead hunters to pregnant females carrying up to 100 eggs at a time, civilian hunting initiatives, and even bringing in snake hunters from India’s mountain-dwelling Irula tribe.
Hunter spoke again about the snake population.
“In an invasive population like Burmese pythons in south Florida this could result in a broader or more rapid distribution. With how rapidly they’ve [already] increased their population and expanded it appears they’re doing quite well.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has reported that over 500 non-native species have been identified in Florida, including Cuban tree frogs that decimate amphibian species and the green iguana, which destroys native plant populations.