TBT - "The Trouble With Invasive Species"

A few days ago, in a conversation with Barbara, the subject of pythons came up and the fact that the State of Florida is conducting another 'Python Challenge' hunt right now to get hunters to go into the Everglades to help eradicate this invasive species. The conversation went something like this:

Barbara: "Remember when we used to pick up a few bucks and have fun by attending outdoor festivals in Miami with live African Ball Pythons wrapped around our necks?".

Me: "Yes - that was a lot of fun selling those beautiful pythons that way. In fact the other common name for them is 'Royal Pythons' because these docile snakes were once used as jewelry by African Kings'".

Barbara: "And it was like Moses parting the Red Sea as we walked through the crowd and everyone jumped back to get out of our way!".

Me: "Well - there was the 'surprise factor', but after they saw that these living jewels were harmless, many in the crowd pressed forward for a better look and to handle the snakes, and then we would make a sale"!

Barbara: "Did you see that the State of Florida is sponsoring another hunt for Burmese Pythons this month? And how come the Ball Pythons never established themselves as an invasive species in South Florida like the Burmese Pythons?".

Me: "Population dynamics in any tropical or sub-tropical region is rather complex. And I am not just talking about the fact that half the people in South Florida are from somewhere else! Ball Pythons do not grow large enough or lay enough eggs to do a good job of survival in swamps - they are not a semi-aquatic species like the Burmese Pythons that love the Everglades. Also, small or young snakes in this region are preyed upon by several species of birds, raccoons, possums and the gators, but the Burmese lay large clutches of eggs so some of the young survive to become big adults. However, neither species can handle cold - so 'invasion' is limited to South Florida. "

Barbara: "So the Burmese Pythons are the snake that everyone considers a serious threat to the native wildlife in South Florida. But we have raccoons and possums running around our neighborhood all the time - getting into garbage and digging up our plants. Their population appears to be healthy enough. Does that make a lie out of the media saying we are losing our native wildlife to the invasion of the pythons?"

Me: "The reason we have so many raccoons and possums running through suburbia is the loss of natural habitat. There has been too much development in South Florida that continues to this day - it has had a far greater impact on wildlife distribution and populations then 'invasive species'. As always - political control of the media misdirects the public away from the real problem, which in this case is the loss of habitat from housing developers and agricultural interests."

Barbara: "Then this is like the problem we see with the Florida coral reefs. The media and the state are blaming the decline of the reefs on everything but the real 'snakes' - developers and agricultural interests like 'Big Sugar', with all those algae producing chemicals they are pouring into the ocean. Obviously the media gets more traction out of alarming people over the Lionfish invasion then pointing out how political corruption allows the pollution and decline of the coral reefs and the native reef fishes."

Me: "Nature is self organizing - there is a natural contraction/expansion of species that reflects all the relevant influences. At present there are many short sighted corrupt, greedy and ignorant people that are not addressing the real problems facing the quality of life we share with all species here in South Florida. I agree the real 'dangerous snakes' in Florida are the corrupt politicians who refuse to address the actual causes of loss of native species on land and in the ocean. If we could just find a means of eradicating the corrupt politicians! "