Lauren Tarshis 2016-02-11 22:50:00
Deadly pythons are taking over one of America’s most prized wilderness areas. Is there anything we can do to stop them? VOCABULARY wetlands: marshy land with wet soil species: a particular type of animal or plant climate: the usual weather in a certain place camouflage: coloring that makes animals, people, or objects blend in with their surroundings importing: bringing something to a place from another country One January morning in 2003, a group of families was exploring Everglades National Park. Located in Florida, this beautiful wilderness is made up of 2,500 square miles of protected wetlands. The visitors saw rivers of golden grass stretching out in all directions. Frogs sang and crickets chirped. The group had high hopes for the day. Perhaps they’d see a blue heron or a snowy egret. Maybe they’d even catch sight of a Florida panther. As it turned out, the visitors were about to see something more unusual—and horrifying. Not far from the park’s entrance, they spotted a huge alligator. It was wrestling an enormous snake. They would later learn that the snake was a Burmese python. The alligator had its jaws clamped around the snake. The snake was wrapped around the alligator. The animals struggled like two monsters in a horror film. Some of the visitors took videos. Within days, the videos appeared on TV and on websites around the world. Most people who saw the videos found them either thrilling or gross. But to many wildlife experts, the wrestling match was the sign of a problem. A big, slithery problem. Out of Place Burmese pythons are not naturally from the Everglades, or anywhere in North America. This species is native to southern Asia. But years ago, park officials started to notice Burmese pythons living and breeding in the Everglades. The officials were worried that these huge snakes could have a terrible effect on the environment there. How did the first Burmese pythons get to the U.S.? They came as pets. Pet stores began selling them in the early 1990s. The snakes were immediately popular. As babies, curled into tiny coils, pythons look cute—at least, to some people. But these little snakes grow. And grow and grow and grow. An adult Burmese python can be more than 20 feet long and weigh 250 pounds. A large, hungry snake can eat an enormous number of live animals. People who bought a Burmese python often regretted it. And then what could they do? If you are allergic to your kitten, you might find someone to adopt it. But a 20-foot snake that eats live bunnies? Many people ended up setting unwanted snakes loose in the wild. In addition, some pythons may have been set free by accident. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida. It wrecked thousands of buildings. Some of the buildings held businesses that sold pets from around the world. Their collections included hundreds of baby Burmese pythons. Some of these snakes may have ended up in the Everglades. In many areas of the U.S., a python would die of cold or hunger in the wild. But that’s not the case in Florida. The warm, moist climate there is perfect for pythons. Snake Invaders Burmese pythons are what’s known as an invasive species. That’s a type of animal or plant brought into a new environment that damages the animals and plants already living there. About 4,300 invasive species live in the U.S. Some of them have caused terrible damage. One example is mongooses in Hawaii. Farmers brought a few dozen of these animals from Jamaica more than 100 years ago. They wanted the mongooses to kill rats. The mongooses didn’t get rid of the rats. But they did eat so many bird eggs that some kinds of birds disappeared. The number of mongooses grew and grew. The problem continues today. On some Hawaiian islands, the air is strangely quiet. Not a bird can be heard. The mongooses ate them all. Experts say something similar is now happening in Florida. Pythons eat almost anything. That includes reptiles, bird eggs, and even large animals like deer. According to The New York Times, foxes and rabbits seem to have disappeared from the Everglades. Raccoons, deer, opossums, and bobcats are almost gone as well. “We Are at War” Burmese pythons breed quickly. A female can lay as many as 100 eggs in one nest. The exact number of pythons in the Everglades is unknown. Trying to count them would be impossible. Their green-and-brown scales provide excellent camouflage. The snakes blend right in with the marsh, so it is hard to find them. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importing of Burmese pythons. But it might be too late. The National Park Service recently reported that about 100,000 pythons live in the Everglades. The python invasion is a crisis for the environment. The National Park Service has hired scientists to find and trap snakes. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks people to report python sightings at www.ivegot1.org. In 2013, the FWC organized a “Python Challenge” hunt. Another hunt will take place starting January 16, 2016. As one park ranger puts it, “We are at war.” So far, the battle looks a lot like that wrestling match between the alligator and the python. The struggle will go on for a long time, and right now, nobody can say for sure who will win. Action Activity You’ve just read“The Snake That’s Eating Florida.” Now do the activity below to help you better understand the article. TIP When you answer questions about a text, go back and look for text evidence—details from the text that support your answers. WHAT TO DO: Write down the missing information below. Question 1.How did Burmese pythons get to the United States, and when did they first arrive? 2.What environmental change happened to some Hawaiian islands after mongooses were brought there? 3.Why don’t we know exactly how many Burmese pythons are in the Everglades? Answer and Text Evidence HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Out of Place.” HINT: Look for the answer in the section “Snake Invaders.” HINT: Look for the answer in the section “ ‘We Are at War.’ ”
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