As Indiana Jones would say: “Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes?” – actually this is one better, it’s super snakes. A new genetic study says a ‘super snake’ could be on the horizon in the Florida Everglades – just what we all need, right?
US Geological Survey researchers were studying the invasive Burmese python – which has been reproducing in the Florida Everglades for nearly four decades, not to mention slowly decimating the population of small mammals in the area – they discovered that some of the snakes tested contained both Burmese and Indian python DNA.
This all indicated that there has been crossbreeding between the two snake species.
In the study, which was published in Ecology and Evolution, the researches wrote: “Our finding that the Florida python population is comprised of distinct lineages suggests greater standing variation for adaptation and the potential for broader areas of suitable habitat in the invaded range.”
What this means is that the apparent mixed-DNA snakes have the potential to become a super snake, adaptable to multiple terrains – ideal really.
The Indian pythons like high, dry ground, while Burmese pythons are swamp-dwellers, so the ‘super snakes’ would be quite comfortable anywhere.
The USGS researchers caught 400 snakes between the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades.
These were found to be genetically related Burmese pythons, but 13 of them had genetic markers from Indian pythons – meaning that the Everglades snakes might make the step (or slither) – to inhabit more varied areas.
The study’s lead author, USGS geneticist Margaret Hunter, told the Miami Herald: “If the Indian pythons have a wider range, perhaps these Everglades snakes now have that capability.”
Hunter also said the findings were ‘quite surprising,’ but said they didn’t know how many of the super snakes there were in the Everglades snake population.
However, it is estimated there are thousands of pythons living in the wetlands, thought to be the result of snakes that either escaped or were released from the commercial pet trade.
One scary thought remains – that these snakes may never die out because the population is so large.
Hunter said: “If some animals die out because of climatic issues, there are other animals that may not die out.”
While it’s not yet fully known just what abilities they have to adapt, or how far-ranging the super snakes may be, one thing we do know is that Indiana Jones probably won’t be making a trip to Florida any time soon.
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