Indiana Jones Would Hate These Snakes: Florida Pythons Find Their Way Home From 20 Miles Away

Indiana Jones Would Hate These Snakes: Florida Pythons Find Their Way Home From 20 Miles Away
By Jack Holland
Published June 9th, 2014

Invasive Burmese pythons have been moving into Florida, and they have been found at lengths nearing 19 feet. Needless to say, that is not something that the average homeowner wants to find in his or her backyard while setting up the barbeque. The snakes do tend to stick to the swamps, and they love traveling through the Everglades, where they can find plenty of food.

The problem is that they eat everything in their path. Some species are nearing extinction after the last decade of being hunted down and killed by pythons. Scientists have been studying the snakes, which they believe are the descendents of pet snakes that got out of their cages and disappeared into the wild, in order to figure out what can be done with them.

For those who believed that the best option was simply to round up the snakes and drop them off in another location, the answers are not so clear-cut. The problem that a recent study found is that the snakes know exactly where their homes are located. They can travel as far as 20 miles, getting back to the place where they began. When taken from their territory, they are dead-set on getting back to it, even if the journey takes weeks.

Tracking the snakes to find out what they could do was no small feat. Scientists needed to implant trackers in the animals, and they settled on radio transmitters that were implanted while the snakes were out cold, having been safely given anesthesia. Traditional GPS tracking devices, like the ones used to track the movements of wolves, could not be used because there was nowhere on the snakes' bodies for the trackers to be attached.

Despite their efforts to learn what the snakes can do, scientists are still not 100 percent sure how they do it. As improbable as it may sound, they are looking closely into the idea that the snakes used the stars, something that they have been reported to do in the past. Using the positions of stars, they could be able to move back to their original homes, where the stars would appear to be normal to them. However, more research needs to be done to find out if this is really how the snakes move or not.

Regardless of how they do it, this experiment does tell the scientists one important thing: They are not simply going to be able to move the pythons out of the Everglades to get them to stop killing off the wildlife. If they do, there is a good chance that the snakes would simply return in time. This would be a process that would have to be repeated time and time again, which would be costly and time-consuming. They are going to have to look for another alternative for reducing the environmental impact of the snakes.