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Displaced Burmese Pythons in Florida Can Find Their Way Back Home

Mar 19, 2014 08:55 AM EDT

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 Burmese pythons in Florida have an internal navigational tool and can find their way back home, according to a new study.

Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are an invasive species in Florida. These snakes can be 6 to 10 feet long and are found in the Everglades National Park, Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area and adjacent areas.

The recent study by researchers at Davidson College found that these snakes can find their way home even when moved 20 miles away.

For the study, researchers tracked movements of 12 adult Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park using small radio trackers.  Six snakes in the group were translocated 21-36 km (13 to 21 miles) from their homes. Researchers found that translocated snakes moved faster than other pythons. Five of the six translocated snakes reached to within 5 km (3 miles) of the original capture location of their home territory.

"Most snakes have a home range and like to stay in that area. When they are moved to a new location, they tend to wander and try to figure out where they are," said Shannon Pittman at Davidson College in North Carolina, according to National Geographic.

According to Everglades National Park, some 2,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from South Florida since 2002. These pythons have become the top predators in the region and even compete with alligators for food. Their growth has led to a severe decline in native animals.

Pythons have out-competed related snakes in the race to reach home. "Snakes have been shown to home before, but not over such large distances," Wolfgang Wiltschko at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany told New Scientist.

According to Wiltschko, previous record holder for homing instinct was one aquatic snake that reached home after travelling 800 meters.  Two other land snakes also moved some 300 meters (984 foot) to get back home. Wiltschko wasn't part of the current study, according to New Scientist.

Pittman isn't sure how these pythons oriented themselves in the direction of their home territories,

"Biologists need to know how fast the snakes might spread and what corridors they are likely to use," Pittman told National Geographic, "so that conservationists can prevent population expansion."

The study is published in the journal Biology Letters

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