Pythons in the Backyard of America: The Menace of an Invasive Species

Most people who surf the internet with any regularity have probably seen the photograph of the alligator protruding from the exploded carcass of the dead Burmese python.  What most people do not realize, however, is just what a danger these animals can be, to both the natural environment of the Everglades and to the safety of pets.  What is even more disturbing, if people only knew it, is that scientists speculate that up to a third of the United States could be populated by these constrictors if their breeding is not kept in check.  If they are allowed to spread, they could spell the ultimate demise of not just the Everglades, but several other ecosystems as well. Their recent population explosion indicates the powerfully negative impact an invasive species can have upon an environment, as well as how important it is for everyone to be more responsible regarding their pets.

Consider the alligator incident; this unfortunate turn of events reveals that one of the (formerly) concrete truths about the Everglades is slowly being overturned.  In the past, it was assumed by most scientists that, apart from man, the American alligator was the apex predator in most southern ecosystems.  This being the case, they helped to keep the ecosystem in balance, as they would not in most cases consume more prey animals than was necessary, thus ensuring that both species depended on one another.  The influx of the python, which is quite able to eat a deer as much as an alligator, has thrown a huge wrench into the machinery of the Everglades.  With both prey and apex predator subject to the predations of the pythons, the entire functioning of the ecosystem, always fragile at best, could collapse entirely.

If that is not frightening enough, the possibility of pythons moving into other parts of the American South raises the specter of this same destruction occurring elsewhere.  Burmese pythons flourish in wet, moist areas, so states such as Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, parts of Missouri and the Carolinas as well as Texas could be subjected to this menace.  All of these states are home to a variety of endangered wildlife, including several species of endangered birds, mammals, and reptiles, all of which would be subject to the python.  In short, the python has the very real ability to become the apex predator in these habitats; unfortunately, these ecosystems have not developed to cope with this incursion, so it is quite likely that several species will become extinct.

There are those, of course, who will fail to see the danger in these facts; it is therefore also worth nothing that pythons can also have an impact on humans.  Although Burmese pythons are not generally prone to attack humans, attacks are not unheard, especially of children (as the recent case in Florida makes plain.)  The worst danger, however, is to the pet population.  To a python, a domestic dog or cat, no matter how well-loved by its owner, is nothing more than an easy meal, so it is not unheard of for pythons to enter into city limits and hunt cats and dogs.  So, although the greatest danger pythons in America pose is to the native environment, they can also be a danger to man’s best friends.

Although the danger of the python may seem removed for those who don’t dwell in the immediate vicinity, it should be a matter of national concern for every citizen, as well as a warning of the dangers of the exotic pet trade.  Pythons may appear to be a lovely and appealing pet at first glance, but the fact that so many have been released into the wild indicates that too many people do not realize how difficult care for them can be.  Therefore, everyone who considers owning a snake, particularly those located where such animals can become invasive, should carefully consider their ability to care for it before taking it home