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Hybrid ‘Super Snakes’ Emerge In Florida

Aug 30, 2018 11:49 PM EDT
Burmese Python
Burmese pythons are one of the largest snakes in the planet with a carnivorous appetite that's terrorizing the Florida Everglades ecosystem. Now, some Burmese pythons have been found to be mixed with genes of its even more aggressive cousin.
(Photo : Karsten Paulick | Pixabay)

Pythons are fearsome enough on their own, but newly discovered hybrid pythons in South Florida might be even stronger than the originals.

Dubbed as "super snakes" for potential capabilities from two aggressive species, this new type of slithering carnivore has made the Florida Everglades its home.

New Hybrid Snakes Emerge From The Everglades

According to Live Science, it was initially believed that the invasive snakes were purely Burmese pythons. However, a closer look at the genetic makeup hints at another formidable snake in the mix: the Indian rock python.

In the research paper published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, scientists introduced these new hybrids, which they identified while analyzing tissue from 426 Burmese pythons gathered from 2001 to 2012. Thirteen of these snakes were found to have genetic signatures of the Indian rock python.

The combination of these two invasive species create an extra menacing snake hybrid in the Florida landscape.

"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," Margaret Hunter, lead author and a USGS research geneticist, explains in an interview with The Guardian. "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."

The Burmese python is a lethal constrictor that is one of the largest snakes in the world, reaching up to over 23 feet and 200 pounds, according to National Geographic. On the other hand, the Indian rock python is smaller but faster and even more aggressive than their cousins.

What The Discovery Means For Florida

Hunter explains that their findings don't necessarily mean that there's a new species terrorizing the Everglades, as the scientists believe there's been cross-breeding occurring here before the python population in Florida ballooned.

However, just because there might not be a new species in the animal kingdom doesn't mean the hybrid's emergence bodes well for Florida. The state, after all, is already trying to reduce python numbers, as the ultra-aggressive snakes are wiping out other species in the area, including foxes and rabbits, among others.

According to Hunter, the traces of Indian rock python genes in Burmese pythons may enable the species to adapt even better to the environment and result in faster and more thorough distribution for the lethal snakes.

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