The Invasion of Giant Snakes!!! - Scifi Thriller Title or a Reality for The United States?

The Invader!
The Invader!

The Invasion!

An invasion of giant snakes in the U.S.? Is it really a possibility? Unfortunately, the terrifying reality is that it is not only possible but is currently happening. Before you decide to move to Canada allow me to explain. As of now, all three of the well known largest breeds of snakes not native to the United States have been found in the state of Florida living in the wild. This includes different breeds of Pythons, Boa Constrictors, and even Anacondas. The warm climate of Florida has proved not only suitable for the large reptiles, but they seem to be thriving. Reports of these large snake findings in Florida have been around since the 1990's, but in the last several years have gathered much media coverage due to the large threat they have began to pose. Some scientists believe that over the next several years the snakes may be able to spread further across the country.

Big Snakes

All three of these breeds of snakes grow much bigger than any of our natural snakes and two of the breeds are contenders for the title of largest snake on earth. They are also all three constrictors. This means that instead of venom to sedate or kill their prey, they wrap their enormous powerful bodies around their prey and squeeze until it dies. The snake then slowly devours its catch. They aren't particularly picky about their food and their diet varies depending on their size. Full grown constrictors have been discovered eating or having eaten alligators, birds, rats, other small rodents, and the remains of at least one bobcat and one white tail deer have found inside the animals. In case your wondering... It isn't likely that there is a snake in the United States large enough to consume an adult human. However, these monstrous snakes prove a very dangerous threat to house hold pets and yes... Unfortunately even children.

African Rock Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS
African Rock Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS

In This Particular Case... Size Definitely Matters

So how big do the largest snakes in the world get? The Burmese Pythons, which are the big snakes most populated in Florida at this time, reach an average length of 12 ft. in adulthood; but have been known to get as long as 19ft..

The longest snake currently living in captivity that has been measured and entered, verified, and added to the Guinness Book of World Records is a 24ft. Reticulated Python living in the Columbus Zoo. Its name is Fluffy.

Before Fluffy there was another Reticulated Python kept in captivity at the then Highland Park Zoo in Pennsylvania that was 28.5 ft. in length. There is believed to be another Reticulated Python that measured 33ft., but it lacks the same credentials and records of the priorly mentioned 28.5ft. snake.

Reticulated Pythons hold the verified record as longest snake in the world, but when considering pure mass Anacondas are the biggest. The largest Anaconda ever measured did reach 28ft., and it was 44 inches around.

In 2004 MSNBC reported that some villagers in Indonesia were claiming to have a 49ft. And 983lb. Reticulated Python living in captivity. At the time of MSNBC's article the claim had not been verified. At this time, I cannot find any record of the claim being verified.

Fossils have been found of snakes that scientists call Titanboa. The biggest fossils found have led scientists to believe the snake lived 60 million years ago, measured 40 to 50ft., and weighed 2,500lbs.

There are numerous tales of gigantic snake sightings, capture, and killings but rarely does anyone present any legitimate proof of record breaking snakes. From the early 1900's until 2002 The New York Zoological Society offer a $50,000 reward to anyone that could present them a living snake that measured over 30ft. The reward was never claimed.

This isn't to say that there aren't snakes that big living in the world. It is commonly believed by many scientists that larger snakes exist in the world, but are rarely if ever seen by human eyes. These species of snakes, Such as Anacondas and Pythons, not only live in remote locations in miles of water and wilderness, but also will tend to try to remain hidden from predators including humans. Almost every breed of snake is beyond adequate at remaining well hidden in their natural environment.

Burmese Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Roy Wood, National Park Service
Burmese Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Roy Wood, National Park Service
Burmese Python sitting on nest in Florida Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo Jemeema Carrigan,  University of Florida
Burmese Python sitting on nest in Florida Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo Jemeema Carrigan, University of Florida
African Rock Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo byGraham J. Alexander, University of the Witwatersrand
African Rock Python Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo byGraham J. Alexander, University of the Witwatersrand

Pythons

There are 17 recognized species of Pythons from various parts of the world in different sizes, shapes and colors, but the one currently growing in rapid numbers throughout the Florida Wilderness is the Burmese Python. These snakes are originally from tropical and subtropical areas of Southern Asia. They like to climb tress, but as they get large tend to spend much of their time on the ground or swimming. Most Burmese Pythons tend to stay close to water sources. Burmese Pythons are mostly brown with dark brown patches. As mentioned above, they reach an average length of 12 ft. in adulthood; but have been known to get as long as 19ft.. The good news about Burmese Pythons is that they tend to be less aggressive than some other closely related big snakes.

Another type of Python that is thriving well in the Florida Everglades is the African Rock Python. As their name suggests these large snakes are originally from Africa. Similar to their relatives the Burmese Pythons they also prefer a tropical climate and to be near a water source. They are often mistaken for Burmese Pythons because they look very similar. The Rock Python also tends to be brown but with tan patches. Rock Pythons are one of the largest species of snakes on earth. The average size of an adult is 16ft., but they can easily grow over 20ft. This snake is known for having an aggressive attitude and there are numerous reports throughout history of them attacking and/or eating people including full grown adults.

Boa Constrictor Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Mike Rochford,  University of Florida
Boa Constrictor Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Mike Rochford, University of Florida

Boa Constrictors

There are arguably 10 species of Boa Constrictors, but at this time no one species is being reported as having as large of a foothold in Florida as the Burmese or Rock Pythons. Boa Constrictors naturally hail from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean The average person (Including myself) couldn't tell a Boa Constrictor from a Python in the wild. The main difference between the two species is that Pythons lay eggs while Boa Constrictors give birth to live snakes. Boa Constrictors like Pythons prefer a tropical climate with a water source. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors as do Pythons. The average adult male boa is 6 to 9ft., while the average length for an adult female is 7 to 10ft. Long. These snakes occasionally can get above 10ft. But it is rare. The temperament of the South American Boas tend to usually be tamer than those from Central America.

A Anaconda that was captured in the U.S. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Skip Snow, National Park Service
A Anaconda that was captured in the U.S. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Skip Snow, National Park Service
Green Anaconda
Green Anaconda

Anacondas

At this time there are only a handful of Anacondas that have been reportedly found in Florida, and hopefully it remains this way. There are four species of Anaconda, but the one most well known is the Green Anaconda for being arguably the biggest living snake in the world. As I mentioned above, Reticulated Pythons have been measured longer than the Anacondas, but the Anacondas grow to very close the same length and have much more body mass. As mentioned above there are numerous tales of huge snakes, and many of those claims revolve around this snake. Because of their habitat and temperament it is hard for many of the larger of these creatures to be measured accurately. Scientists believe the minimum size of an adult Anaconda to be 10.5 ft. with the maximum being 26.3 ft. in length. However that measurement scale is based off the average sizes of Anacondas caught, and the actual maximum size could easily exceed this number. Anacondas hail from South America. Similarly to the other big snakes mentioned Anacondas prefer a tropical climate, but are much more dependent on water and are considered an aquatic creature. The Green Anacondas have a base green color with black to yellow spots. The temperament of the Anaconda like all that of all snakes can vary depending on the snake, but there are many folklores and tales of Anacondas attacking people. There seems to be very little record of actual attacks.

The Dangers These Snakes Pose To The United States

The danger to humans is limited because the snakes primary choose to stay hidden away deep in the forest near a water source. This doesn't mean that there isn't a danger to humans. It is unlikely that any of these snakes would ever attack a human as a source of food, however if they feel threatened they could cause some serious damage and possibly death. As previously mentioned, these snakes do not contain venom, but they have big heads and their bites can pack a punch that may lead to infection if not properly treated. The bigger danger comes from their ability to constrict. If a snake locked on to a limb, blood flow could be completely cut off. If the snake were to get out around someone's neck they could easily be suffocated.

There really is no reason that a small child would be left unattended, especially in the forest or swamp habitat of these huge snakes. That said, if the snake was large enough and came in to contact with a small child, it is possible that the snake might see the child as food. I won't go in to detail, but sadly enough, there are reports of this rare incident occurring in other countries.

If the snake population continues to grow and spread, human encounters will become much more likely.

The biggest threat these large snakes pose is to the environment. Because these snakes aren't particularly picky about their food choices they eat endangered species. This has been occurring in some Florida conservation parks. Any time a new animal is thrown in to a new ecosystem it potentially can throw off the entire ecosystem, and this is exactly what is happening in Florida.

If You Love Something Let it Go... If It Returns To You Its Yours

You may be wondering how these large snakes from all over the world ended up thriving in the Florid Everglades. The most accepted theory behind this is the release of pet snakes in to the wild. Snakes make great pets (Sorry snake haters but its true). Most snakes are low maintenance and can tend to have interesting personalities. Even though there is a large number of people that hate and/or fear snakes there is another large number of people that adore them and find them fascinating. This equates to a huge market for the creatures in the United States. Besides local pet stores, there are many websites that sell just about every kind of snake you can imagine, including venomous snakes and these big fellas. Some states have laws preventing un-licensed individuals from purchasing venomous snakes, but this doesn't apply to every state. Besides, the big snakes this article is about aren't venomous.

But Why Would Someone Release These Monstrous Snakes In To The Wild?

Have you ever tried to take care of a 20ft. Python thats in a bad mood? Some people tend to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to snakes. They purchase the snake when its a baby and manageable, but eventually the snake grows up. They become dangerous and expensive to care for at this point. I have known several people that owned large Pythons and/or Boa Constrictors. Its always the same story. The snake got too big. It was too expensive to feed. It was too dangerous to have around my kids. It got upset and was too much to handle by myself at that size. These are all good reasons for deciding to get rid of a large snake. All of the people I know were able to give the snake away to a person or an organization. Unfortunately, not everyone finds responsible ways to get rid of their snakes. Some people rather through attachment or possibly a lack of ideas release their giant snakes in to the wild.

Obviously, there is no way to know if that is the exact cause and it could just as easily be contributed to snake escapes. Snakes tend to be expert escape artists. If a cage door or lid isn't secured tight they will get out. Even in a small house, a 10ft. Snake could be hard to find, and they can find ways to gain their freedom to the outside world fairly easily.


How Are These Snakes Surviving In A Environment That Isn't Natural To Them?

Anyone that has been to Florida knows that it tends to be hot and humid, which is exactly the kind of climate these snakes thrive in. Snakes are very adaptive to new environments. Especially young snakes. The first year of a snakes life, determines to its body the type of climate that it should always be prepared for. This allows them to slowly creep further and further in to the rest of the country, while adapting to harsher winters. This isn't to say that they could thrive across the entire United States, but many scientists argue that over time they can adjust to a large portion of the United States including all of the Southern states going all of the way west to California. Of course at this point this is only speculation.

Anytime a new species is introduced to a new environment, it is nearly impossible for scientists to accurately predict how the animal will thrive because there are just too many variables, especially when the discussion is about something as adaptive as a snake.

This past year much of the U.S. Including Florida faced a harsh winter. It was believed to have helped exterminate a large portion of the snake population. Unfortunately, they have now realized that though the cold seemed to kill off a large number of the snakes, it did little to stunt their growth.

Researchers did a test during the winter in South Carolina which involved having 10 Burmese Pythons placed in an enclosed outdoor environment to see if the snakes could survive the winter. The snakes reportedly survived until an unusual cold spell hit, finally causing the 10 snakes to die. Even though the snakes died, the researchers felt that without this unusual cold spell the snakes would have survived the winter.

This map indicates where Pythons could possibly be living by 2100, based off climate predictions for the United States.
This map indicates where Pythons could possibly be living by 2100, based off climate predictions for the United States.
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

But What About Natural Predators?

20ft. Snakes tend to stay at the top of the food chain. When they are young there are of course they may face many dangers from other carnivorous animals big enough to eat them, but if they survive to adulthood the only real consistent predators would be alligators, and that just depends on who is bigger. An alligator that is bigger than a snake, it will eat the snake. On the flip side, if a snake is bigger than a alligator, it will eat the alligator. There is an image of a dead alligator and python locked in a struggle that has received much publicity. In the picture both animals are dead, though it is unclear why.

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Department of the Interior/USGS U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
Researchers implant a radio transmitter in a 16-foot, 155-pound female Burmese python (Python molurus) at the South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park. Radio-tracking builds understanding of where pythons spend their time and therefore
Researchers implant a radio transmitter in a 16-foot, 155-pound female Burmese python (Python molurus) at the South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park. Radio-tracking builds understanding of where pythons spend their time and therefore

Human Efforts To Remove This Threat

Unfortunately, snakes don't give off a large enough heat signature to track by helicopter, and because of their innate ability to hide so well simple tracking methods are slow going, and though wildlife professionals and hunters find snakes occasionally, its not enough to dent the population of thousands that are running rampant. Florida government and wildlife groups have continued increasing efforts and are working on new ways to capture the snakes. They currently working on several projects which include but are not limited to traps, attractants, and even small remote unmanned aerial vehicles to locate the snakes.

The Federal Government is now considering a law that would ban the sell of 9 different species of the large snakes to unlicensed individuals. This obviously wouldn't resolve the current problem, but hopefully would help to keep future species of snakes from becoming free in the wild and breeding.


How would you feel about seeing a 20ft. snake in the rivers or lakes near you?

  • Nooooooooooooooo Waaaaaaaaay!
  • Meh, whatever
  • Sounds neat!
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The Future Of This Snake Problem

There is no way to know how much bigger of a problem these snakes will create for our country, and there is no way how far the snakes will actually spread. Scientist are working nonstop for a resolution to this problem. However if they aren't able to find a solution to this problem, we all might become much more familiar with these large snakes. For anyone reading this that enjoys spending time in our country's rivers and lakes... Can you imagine the possibility of seeing a 20ft. python floating along side your bass boat or canoe? It is a very disturbing reality we may have to deal with some day if this problem continues to grow.

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