(DAILY MAIL) A burgeoning population of huge pythons -- many of them pets that were turned loose by their owners when they got too big to care for -- appears to be wiping out large numbers of raccoons, opossums, bobcats and other mammals in the Florida Everglades, a study says.
The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that sightings of medium-size mammals are down dramatically — as much as 99 percent, in some cases — in areas where pythons and other large, non-native constrictor snakes are known to be lurking.
Scientists fear the pythons could disrupt the food chain and upset the Everglades' environmental balance in ways difficult to predict.
A new report shows that the proliferation of pythons coincides with a decrease of mammals in the Florida Everglades.
Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia, are believed to be living in the Everglades, where they thrive in the warm, humid climate.
While many were apparently released by their owners, others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been reproducing ever since.
Burmese pythons can grow to be 26 feet long and more than 200 pounds, and they have been known to swallow animals as large as alligators. They and other constrictor snakes kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it.
The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around Everglades National Park since 2000. Among the largest so far was a 156-pound, 16.4-foot one captured earlier this month.
The report says the effect on the overall ecosystem is hard to predict. Declines among bobcats and foxes, which eat rabbits, could be linked to pythons' feasting on rabbits. On the flip side, declines among raccoons, which eat eggs, may help some turtles, crocodiles and birds.
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