23 Aug 2018

Hybrid Python Supersnake?

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The Miami Herald reports scholarly speculation on the results of python cross-breeding in the Florida Everglades.

What started out as a straightforward genetic study of Florida’s invasive python population has turned up a surprising plot twist: a small number of crossbred Burmese and Indian pythons with the potential to become a kind of Everglades super snake.

For the study, published Sunday in the journal Ecology and Evolution, U.S. Geological Survey researchers examined the tail tissue of 400 snakes captured in South Florida, from the Big Cypress Swamp to the Everglades. While the vast majority appeared to be closely related Burmese pythons — imagine a family reunion packed with first and second cousins — 13 had genetic markers from Indian pythons, a different species that unlike the swamp-loving Burmese snake prefers high, dry ground.

The number is clearly small, but it raises the risk that over time some Everglades snakes could become better suited to a more varied landscape. Scientists call it hybrid vigor.

Python hunter Dusty Crum carries a python caught as part of South Florida Water Management District licensed hunting program in May. The state has been paying a select group of hunters to kill the invasive snakes on state lands since March 2017.

“If the Indian pythons have a wider range, perhaps these Everglades snakes now have that capability,” said lead author and USGS geneticist Margaret Hunter. “It’s quite interesting and quite surprising, but we don’t know the extent it’s in the population.”

RTWT

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