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Weet iemand watter soort slang dit is?

Weet iemand watter soort slang dit is?


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FYI die slang is dood en tans in my vrieskas, ek het dit by 'n ou gekry en vergeet om te vra watter soort dit is.


Dit is Orthriophis taeniurus ridleyi, 'n sinoniem is Elaphe taeniura. Dit het 'n paar algemene name, sommige is Ridley se skoonheidslang, Cave beauty en Cave racer.

https://www.biolib.cz/en/taxon/id310150/

https://www.naturepl.com/search?s=orthriophis+taeniurus+ridleyi2581

https://www.zootierliste.de/en/?klasse=3&ordnung=305&familie=30513&art=21102660

https://www.thainationalparks.com/species/orthriophis-taeniurus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty_rat_snake

https://www.reptarium.cz/en/taxonomy/Orthriophis-taeniurus/2581


Koperkopslange: feite, byte en babas

Koperkopslange is van die Noord-Amerikaanse slange wat meer algemeen gesien word. Hulle is ook die meeste geneig om te byt, hoewel hul gif relatief sag is, en hul byte is selde dodelik vir mense.

Hierdie slange kry hul naam, gepas, van hul koperrooi koppe, volgens die biologie-afdeling aan die Pennsylvania State University. Daar word na sommige ander slange verwys as koperkoppe, wat 'n algemene (niewetenskaplike) naam is. Watermoccasins (katoenbekke), bestraalde rotslange, Australiese koperkoppe en skerpneuspitadders word almal soms koperkoppe genoem, maar dit is verskillende spesies as die Noord-Amerikaanse koperkop (Agkistrodon contortrix).

Koperkoppe is putadders, soos ratelslange en watermoccasins. Pitadders het "hittesensoriese putte tussen oog en neusgat aan elke kant van kop," wat in staat is om klein verskille in temperature op te spoor sodat die slange akkuraat die bron van hitte kan tref, wat dikwels potensiële prooi is. Copperhead "gedrag is baie soos dié van die meeste ander putadders," sê herpetoloog Jeff Beane, versamelingsbestuurder van amfibieë en reptiele by die North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.


Snake Island se goue lanskop is een van die wêreld se dodelikste slange

Die dodelike slang wat Ilha de Queimada Grande sy tuiste noem, is waarskynlik nie iets waarvan jy al ooit gehoor het nie, en dit is omdat Ilha de Queimada Grande die enigste plek is waar jy dit werklik kan kry. Dit word die goue lanskop genoem, en die naam is nogal beskrywend — die slang is 'n lieflike goue kleur en sy kop is soos 'n oorlogswapen gevorm, behalwe as jy deur 'n gewone lans vassteek, het jy eintlik 'n kans om te oorleef.

Nou, die goue lanskop is nie die enigste lid van die lanskop genus nie. Volgens Atlas Obscura is lanskoppe algemeen in Brasilië en is dit verantwoordelik vir ongeveer 90% van alle slangbytsterftes in daardie land. As jy op die vasteland van Brasilië deur 'n lanskop gebyt word en jy ontvang nie mediese behandeling nie, het jy omtrent 'n 7% kans om te sterf. As jy wel mediese behandeling ontvang, het jy steeds 'n 3%-kans om te sterf en jou simptome kan nierversaking, breinbloeding, dermbloeding, nekrose van spierweefsel insluit - jy weet, standaard goed.

Dit is egter die lanskoppe van die vasteland. Daar word vermoed dat die gif van die goue lanskop soveel as vyf keer kragtiger is as sy slap niggies op die vasteland, so ja. Daar is 'n goeie rede waarom Snake Island buite perke vir die gemiddelde toeris is.


Geelpenskoningslang is eintlik drie afsonderlike spesies

Volgens 'n nuwe studie wat in die joernaal gepubliseer is Molekulêre Filogenetika en Evolusie, die geelpens koningslang (Lampropeltis calligaster), 'n slang wat oor 'n groot stuk van die oostelike VSA gevind word, is eintlik drie afsonderlike spesies eerder as net een.

'n Prairie koningslang (Lampropeltis calligaster) in Kansas. Beeldkrediet: Don Becker / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Die geelpenskoningslang, ook bekend as die prairiekoningslang, is 'n nie-giftige slangspesie endemies aan die VSA. Sy reeks strek van noordelike Florida tot suidelike Texas, en noord na Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky en Maryland.

Die spesie is ligbruin of grys van kleur, met bruin of rooibruin kolle wat donker rande het. Volwassenes bereik lengtes van 24-42 duim (61-106,7 cm).

Die geelpens koningsslang word in verskeie habitatte aangetref, insluitend onkruidryke landerye, landbougrond, skuurwerwe, weivelde, prêries, klipperige heuwels, ruigtes, oop bosveld, sandheuwels, denneplatte, landwaartse kant van versperringsstrande, kussoutgras-savannes, moerasgrense , en woongebiede.

Hierdie geheimsinnige slang, veral wyfies, spandeer baie tyd ondergronds of onder oppervlakbedekking. Eiers word in 'n ondergrondse holte gelê.

Daar is drie subspesies van die geelpenskoningslang, waarvan twee as afsonderlike spesies begin het toe hulle die eerste keer ontdek is en toe na meer studie gedegradeer is.

Maar die nuwe studie, deur dr. Frank Burbrink van die American Museum of Natural History en dr. Alexander McKelvy van die City University of New York se College of Staten Island, verhef hulle terug na individuele spesies met spesifieke habitatte: die prairie-koningslang (Lampropeltis calligaster) in die prêries wes van die Mississippi-rivier, die molkoningslang (Lampropeltis rhombomaculata) in die woude oos van die Mississippi, en die Suid-Florida molkoningslang (Lampropeltis occipitolineata) in Suid-Florida nat prêries.

(A) benaderde omvang van elke spesie van die geelpenskoningslang en steekproefverspreiding vir die prairiekoningslang Lampropeltis calligaster (bruin, B), die molkoningslang Lampropeltis rhombomaculata (groen, C) en die Suid-Florida molkoningslang Lampropeltis occipitolineata (pers, D) en gedateerde spesieboom. Beeldkrediet: Frank Burbrink / Alexander McKelvy / Donald Shepard / Kenneth Krysko / Kevin Enge.

"Ons het nie net verskeie spesies ontdek nie, maar ons maak stappe om die meganismes te verstaan ​​wat biodiversiteit in die VSA genereer," het dr. Burbrink gesê.

Die resultate van die studie dui ook aan dat diversifikasie van die geelpens koningsslang — en moontlik van baie ander gewerwelde diere wat aan beide kante van die Mississippi-rivier leef — nie deur die rivier self, soos oorwegend gedink word, beïnvloed word nie, maar deur die verskillende ekologiese omgewings aan elke kant.

"Ons het drie spesies gevind wat verskillende ekologiese nisse bewoon met afwykings wat dateer na die middel- en vroeë Pleistoseen met daaropvolgende stabiele of toenemende effektiewe bevolkingsgroottes, wat die idee verder ondersteun dat die Pleistoseen 'n belangrike dryfveer van diversifikasie in Noord-Amerika was," het die skrywers gesê .

"Ons resultate lei tot 'n hersiene hipotese dat ekologiese divergensie in hierdie groep voorgekom het oor omgewings wat verband hou met die Mississippi-rivier en by die Florida-skiereiland."

"Belangrik, in hul westelike verspreidings, wys ons dat spesie-afwyking geassosieer word met die ekologiese oorgang van afsonderlike beboste habitatte na grasvelde, eerder as die nabygeleë Mississippi-rivier, 'n versperring wat dikwels vir baie ander organismes geïmpliseer word."

Die bevindings is noodsaaklik vir bewaringspogings, want waar daar eens 'n baie groot bevolking van 'n enkele wydlopende spesie was, is daar nou drie spesies met aansienlik kleiner getalle.


Seeslang

Ons redakteurs sal nagaan wat jy ingedien het en bepaal of die artikel hersien moet word.

Seeslang, enige van meer as 60 spesies hoogs giftige mariene slange van die kobrafamilie (Elapidae). Daar is twee onafhanklik-ontwikkelde groepe: die ware seeslange (subfamilie Hydrophiinae), wat verwant is aan Australiese terrestriële elapiede, en die seekraits (subfamilie Laticaudinae), wat verwant is aan die Asiatiese kobras. Alhoewel hul gif die sterkste van alle slange is, is menslike sterftes skaars omdat seeslange nie aggressief is nie, hul gifuitset klein is en hul slagtande baie kort is.

Van die 55 spesies ware seeslange is die meeste volwassenes 1–1,5 meter (3,3–5 voet) lank, hoewel sommige individue 2,7 meter (8,9 voet) kan bereik. Hulle is beperk tot kusgebiede van die Indiese en westelike Stille Oseaan, behalwe vir die geelpens seeslang (Pelamis platurus), gevind in oop see vanaf Afrika ooswaarts oor die Stille Oseaan tot aan die weskus van die Amerikas. Alle ander spesies leef hoofsaaklik in waters van minder as 30 meter (ongeveer 100 voet) diep, aangesien hulle na die seebodem moet duik om hul voedsel tussen koraalriwwe, tussen mangroves of op die seebodem te kry. Sommige spesies verkies harde bodems (korale), terwyl ander sagte bodems (modder of sand) verkies om hul prooi te jag. Die meeste seeslange voed op visse van verskillende groottes en vorms, insluitend palings. Twee primitiewe groepe (genera Aipysurus en Emydocephalus) eet net vis-eiers Hidrofis spesialiseer in die grawe van palings.

In aanpassing by die seelewe het ware seeslange 'n afgeplatte liggaam met 'n kort roeispaanagtige stert, klepneusgate bo-op die snoet en langwerpige longe wat oor die hele lengte van die liggaam strek. Hulle skubbe is baie klein en gewoonlik nie oorvleuel nie (naas mekaar), wat soos plaveiselstene teen mekaar aanlig. Die buikskubbe word in die primitiewe spesies verminder, terwyl dit in die meer gevorderde vorms afwesig is. Gevolglik kan die gevorderde spesies nie kruip nie en is dus hulpeloos op land. Wanneer daar geswem word, word 'n kiel langs 'n deel van die maag gevorm, wat die oppervlakte vergroot en die voortstuwing aanhelp, wat plaasvind deur laterale golwing. Seeslange kan vir etlike ure onder water bly, moontlik tot agt of meer. Hierdie merkwaardige prestasie is deels te danke aan die feit dat hulle deur hul vel kan asemhaal. Meer as 90 persent van afval koolstofdioksied en 33 persent van hul suurstofbehoefte kan deur kutane asemhaling vervoer word. Boonop, 'n 2019-studie van die blouband seeslang (of geannuleerde seeslang, Hydrophis cyanocinctus) het 'n hoogs vaskulêre area tussen die snoet en die bokant van die kop gevind, wat toelaat dat suurstof direk vanaf die water na die slang se brein vervoer word. Seeslange gee in die see geboorte aan gemiddeld 2–9 kleintjies, maar soveel as 34 kan gebore word. Die 54 spesies in subfamilie Hydrophiinae behoort aan 16 verskillende genera.

Die ses spesies seekraits (genus Laticauda) is nie so gespesialiseerd vir waterlewe soos die ware seeslange nie. Alhoewel die stert plat is, is die liggaam silindries, en die neusgate is lateraal. Hulle het vergrote buikskubbe soos dié van aardslange en kan op land kruip en klim. Die tipiese kleurpatroon bestaan ​​uit afwisselende bande van swart met grys, blou of wit ringe. Die geellip see krait (L. colubrina) is 'n algemene spesie wat hierdie patroon besit en 'n geel snoet het. Seekraits is nagdiere en voed hoofsaaklik op palings op dieptes van minder as 15 meter (49 voet). Hulle gaan aan wal om hul eiers te lê, en klim in kalksteengrotte en rotsskeure, waar hulle 1–10 eiers neerlê. Volwassenes is gemiddeld 1 meter lank, maar sommige word meer as 1,5 meter. Die langlewendheidsrekord in gevangenskap is sewe jaar.


Wat is die onderwysvereistes om 'n slangmelker te word?

Slangmelk is 'n nisarea, maar een met duidelike opvoedingspad. Hoërskoolleerlinge sal sterk grade in wiskunde en biologie nodig hê. Chemie sal ook nuttig wees om die chemiese eienskappe van die gif te verstaan. Jou aanleg in die biologiese wetenskappe sal die meeste van die agtergrond verskaf wat jy nodig het vir jou graad in 'n verwante veld. Studente moet harde wetenskapgrade volg, verkieslik in biologie met minderjariges in verwante velde soos chemie. Ons beveel sterk aan dat die student 'n graad in dierkunde volg, alhoewel dit jou sal toelaat om jou studies op diere te fokus, wat elemente van 'n biologie-graad verwyder wat nie relevant sal wees vir jou voorgenome loopbaan nie. Vis- en wildgrade kan ook 'n moontlike toegangspunt wees.

Verdere studie sal vereis word om hierdie nisloopbaan te betree. Die beste kursus sal 'n MSc in herpetologie wees en probeer om jou kernprojekte en kursusse op slangbiologie te fokus. Enigiets wat met toksikologie verband hou, kan ook nuttig wees, veral as dit as minderjarige op voorgraadse vlak geneem word. 'n Doktorsgraad behoort in die meeste gevalle nie vereis te word nie, tensy die student 'n loopbaan in onderwys op universiteitsvlak of in direkte navorsing van slanggif wil aangaan. Vir openbare onderwys en uitreik is 'n meestersgraad gewoonlik voldoende.

Na die voltooiing van jou studies, kan jy sertifisering of lisensie vereis. Dit kan verskil volgens die staat, kyk na plaaslike regeringsregulasies vir verdere besonderhede.


Bruinwaterslanginligting en feite

Biologie: Bruinwaterslange is semi-akwaties van aard en het 'n aantal verskillende name, insluitend watervlieënier, groot waterslang, vals mokasien, aspies, bont waterslang, waterratler, waterrammel en suidelike waterslang om 'n paar te noem. Hulle wetenskaplike naam is Nerodia Tqaxispilota.

Die liggaam van die Bruinwaterslang is nogal lywig. Die nek is dun in vergelyking met die kop. Dit is bruin of roesbruin van kleur en het ongeveer 25 donkerkleurige vierkantige kolle op sy rug. Hierdie sportsoorte is ook aan die kant van die maag teenwoordig en loop ook van die oë na die kakebeen. Die penskleur wissel van bruin tot geel met die teenwoordigheid van swart halfmaantjies en bruin kolle.

Hulle meet 30 tot 60 duim lank terwyl die langste een wat ooit aangeteken is, op 70 duim gestaan ​​het. Mannetjies is kleiner en ligter in vergelyking met wyfies. Oë en neusgate word op so 'n manier bo-op die kop geplaas dat dit in staat is om te sien en asem te haal deur net 'n klein gedeelte van die kop bo watervlak te bring terwyl res van die liggaam onder water bly. Die dun nek en breë gesigstruktuur gee hulle 'n diamantkop-voorkoms. Ongeveer 25 tot 33 rye dorsale skubbe is teenwoordig in die middelste deel van die liggaam.

Habitat: Bruinwaterslange leef in water. Hulle kom ook baie gereeld uit en kan in die nabygeleë gebiede bly. Hulle word gevind in groot strome en riviere in en om Kalifornië, suidelike Virginia en Florida. Hulle word ook in die kusvlaktes van Georgina aangetref. Hulle is algemeen in vloeiende waters insluitend swart water sipres spruite en kanale. Die habitatte word gewoonlik omring deur oorhangende plantegroei, klipperige rivieroewers en opkomende stokke. Hulle is redelik algemeen in onderland woude, hardehout hangmatte, gety moerasse en saag gras prairies.

Gedrag: Bruinwaterslange is aktief gedurende die dae sowel as nagte. Hulle word dikwels aangetref om te bak op die takke van bome wat reg bo die vloeiende water is. Wanneer hulle nie jag nie, is dit gewoonlik hoe hulle hul dae deurbring. Dit gee hulle die opsie om in die water te duik en weg te swem ingeval daar enige gevaar is. Soms vind jy selfs meer as een slang wat saam bak. Hulle is ook vinnig om hard terug te byt ingeval hulle enige soort gevaar van iemand voel. Hulle is nie giftig nie, maar die byt is sterk genoeg om jou in baie pyn te plaas.

Hulle is uitstekende swemmers en verkies om in water te reis in vergelyking met land. Hulle is ook briljante klimmers en is bekend om so hoog as 20 voet op boomtakke en ander plantegroei te klim.

Dieet: Bruinwaterslange hou daarvan om vis te eet. Dit is ook bekend dat hulle paddas, erdwurms en knaagdiere verteer. Wyfies kan nie jag tydens die dragtigheid nie as gevolg van ekstra gewig en stoor dus reserwes vroegtydig vir die duur van hul dragtigheid. Hulle kan ook ander slange verteer wat kleiner in grootte is. Hulle gee gewoonlik nie om vir katvisse nie, want hul stekels kan hulle baie pyn veroorsaak. Jy kan maklik 'n Bruinwaterslang sien met die ruggraat van 'n baber wat by hul lyf uitsteek. Die ruggraat breek na 'n rukkie weg en die wond is genees.

Reproduksie: Dit is bekend dat die slang gedurende die lenteseisoen van April tot Mei paar. Paring vind óf op die takke van bome óf op land plaas. In die laat somers gee die wyfies geboorte aan 20 tot 60 kleintjies. Vroulike slange dra die eiers binne haar tydens die swangerskap. Die swangerskap word nie geïnisieer deur die afsetting van semen nie, maar eerder deur die ovulasie. Die sperms kan maande lank in die cloaca van geïnsemineerde wyfies bly sonder om swangerskap te begin. Dit is die rede waarom hulle nie 'n dragtigheidsperiode het nie.

Die uitbroeiproses word binne die liggaam voltooi en lewende kleintjies word gebore. Hulle is 7 tot 10 duim lank met die mannetjies langer en groter in grootte as die wyfies. Gedurende die eerste drie jaar van ouderdom groei hulle baie vinnig in grootte. Dit is bekend dat hulle ongeveer ses jaar leef.

Die Bruinwaterslange word dikwels verwar met katoenbekke wat giftig is.

Baie mense wil weet hoe om 'n Bruinwaterslang dood te maak, maar jy hoef nie. Die beste manier om van Bruinwaterslange ontslae te raak, is om hulle eenvoudig met rus te laat. Jy kan ook 'n Bruinwaterslanglokval gebruik om hulle te vang - dit is een van die beste maniere om Bruinwaterslang te verwyder. Vir meer inligting, gaan na my Slangverwydering - Hoe om van Slange ontslae te raak-tuisblad.


Misterie opgelos: Hoe slange in bome klim

Om vertikaal te klim is nie maklik nie, maar slange het 'n manier gevind om dit veilig te doen.

Wanneer 'n slang in 'n boom klim, dink 'n slang "veiligheid eerste", volgens nuwe navorsing wat Dinsdag gepubliseer is Biologie Briewe.

In plaas daarvan om die boom met net genoeg krag vas te gryp om nie terug te gly nie, oorkompenseer slange en gryp met 'n krag wat ver oorskry wat nodig is. Navorsers dink dat slange deur dit te doen, kies tussen makliker die boom opstaan ​​en hul risiko om te val verminder.

Greg Byrnes, 'n herpetoloog by Siena College in New York en hoofskrywer van die koerant, het besef dat hoewel wetenskaplikes geweet het dat slange in bome klim en 'n rowwe idee gehad het hoe hulle dit doen, het niemand presies geweet hoeveel krag die slange opgewek het om te klim of te klim nie. hoe hulle bepaal het hoeveel krag om te gebruik. Byrnes het probeer om daardie raaisel op te los en was verras deur wat hy gevind het.

"Vir 'n slang is dit baie belangriker om veilig te wees as om kostedoeltreffend te wees," het hy gesê.

Om vertikaal te klim is nie maklik nie, soos enigiemand wat in 'n gimnasiumklas 'n tou geklim het, kan getuig. Om nuwe hoogtes te bereik verg baie energie. Tog, vir baie diere, is klim die koste werd. Vir slange, waarvan sommige boomspesies is en die meeste van hul tyd in bome deurbring, kan dit 'n manier wees om sowel roofdiere te ontsnap as om hul prooi te vang. (Sien "Hoe gekko's hul klewerigheid aan en af ​​skakel.") Hoe 'n dier in 'n boom klim, hang af van sy fisiese kenmerke. Katte kan byvoorbeeld 'n boom met hul kloue vasgryp, wat help om klim makliker te maak. Mense moet op spierkrag staatmaak om genoeg krag uit te oefen om nie te val nie. Alhoewel slange nie ledemate het nie, gebruik hulle ook spierkrag om bome te klim, wat hulle skep deur hul liggame stewig om die stam van 'n boom te draai.

Byrnes en kollega Bruce Jayne aan die Universiteit van Cincinnati het greepsterkte in die laboratorium gemeet deur 'n silinder van 94,4 duim (240 sentimeter) te bou om as 'n boomstam op te tree. Hulle het druksensors op verskeie dele van die "stam" geplaas en dit met 'n tekstuurband toegedraai. Hulle het die proses verfilm terwyl vyf verskillende slangspesies die “boom” geklim het. Sommige van die spesies, soos Morelia nauta, leef amper hul hele lewe in bome. Ander, soos luislang, spandeer baie tyd in bome as jeugdiges om vir roofdiere weg te kruip, maar kom dan as volwassenes af. (Sien ook "Brasiliaanse ondersoekers maak die saak van die vermiste een-of-'n-kind slang uit.")

Omdat slanglywe lank en dun is, kan die diere hulself om die kunsmatige boomstam draai in 'n verskeidenheid oriëntasies, van eweredig om die stam vou tot die grootste deel van hul liggaam op een hoogte saambind. Hoe die slange dit ook al gedoen het, Byrnes en Jayne het gevind dat al vyf spesies baie meer krag gebruik het as wat streng nodig was om te keer dat hul liggame teruggly - soms amper drie keer soveel, berig die navorsers.

Byrnes glo dat hierdie ekstra sterk greep, wat ekstra energie verg, die slang bevoordeel deurdat dit sy kanse om te val verminder. Die gevare van 'n val, sê Byrnes, gaan minder oor direkte fisiese skade en meer oor blootstelling.

“Dit is onwaarskynlik dat 'n val van tien meter 'n slang regtig seer sal maak, maar om terug op die grond te wees, kan hulle aan roofdiere blootstel. Dan sal die slang weer in die boom moet klim, en dit sal dalk meer energiedoeltreffend wees om die eerste keer versigtiger te wees,” het Byrnes gesê.

Byrnes glo strategieë om val te voorkom is die reël in die diereryk, eerder as die uitsondering. So die volgende keer wanneer jou arms begin bewe terwyl jy daardie tou in die gimnasiumklas klim, onthou dat jou spiere die eeue oue stryd veg om veilig op groot hoogtes te bly.


Oordeeljagters en bioloë waad diep die Everglades in om te worstel met die inval van reuse luislange wat die staat se vleilande bedreig

In die Everglades lyk alles nog dieselfde. Die waaiende saaggras, die sipres- en dennebome wat met lugplante gedrapeer is, die hoë, wit wolke geparkeer soos dirigibles bo hul skaduwees—as jy al voorheen in die Everglades was, en jy teruggaan, sal jy dit steeds kry. Maar nou is daar ook 'n vreemde stilte. In die kampeerplekke van Everglades Nasionale Park rammel wasbeer nie die asblik se deksels om vieruur in die oggend nie. Moeraskonyne strooi nie met 'n senuweeagtige geritsel op die staproetes terwyl jy verbystap nie. Bande skree nie wanneer iemand rem om 'n opossum te vermy wat deur hoofligte in die middel van die pad vasgemaak word nie. Trouens, padmoord, wat vroeër algemeen in hierdie wildste deel van Florida was, word nie meer gesien nie.

Teken nou in op die Smithsonian-tydskrif vir slegs $12

Hierdie artikel is 'n keuse uit die Julie/Augustus-uitgawe van die Smithsonian-tydskrif

So onlangs as 'n eeu gelede het die Everglades die grootste deel van die skiereiland suid van Lake Okeechobee bedek, wat byna twee keer sy huidige grootte was. (Gena Steffens)

Die wasbeer en moeraskonyne en opossums en ander klein, warmbloedige diertjies is weg, of amper weg, want dit lyk of Birmaanse luislange hulle geëet het. Die moeras se vreemde stilte buite is die diep, eindeloos geduldige, laser-gefokusde stilte van hierdie indringer roofdiere. Ongeveer twee voet lank wanneer dit uitgebroei word, kan Birmaanse luislange tot 20 voet en 200 pond groei, hulle is een van die grootste slange ter wêreld. Die luislange is meestal hinderlaagjagters en vernouers. Hulle maak kleiner diere dood deur hulle op of naby die kop te byt en hulle te versmoor soos hulle ingesluk word. Daar word op groter diere beslag gelê waar dit ook al gerieflik is, en voor en tydens sluk in die spoele vergruis en verwurg. Groot constrictorslange bestaan ​​al miljoene jare nie in Noord-Amerika nie. Inheemse wildspesies het hulle nog nooit vantevore gesien nie, en herken hulle dalk nie as roofdiere nie.

In Miami, 'n sentrum van die eksotiese troeteldierhandel, het handelaars hulle by die tienduisende van Suidoos-Asië ingevoer. Dit is nou onwettig om Birmaanse luislange in Florida in te voer of te koop. Seker op 'n stadium het luislangeienaars wat nie meer vir hulle wou sorg nie, hulle in die Everglades laat gaan.

Teen die middel-1990's het die luislange 'n broeibevolking gevestig. Vir 25 jaar vreet hulle enige diere wat hulle kan bek. Gegewe die uiters rekbare kraakbeengewrig wat hul kake met hul koppe verbind en hul vermoë om hul lugpyp, snorkelagtig, buite hul mond uit te brei, sodat hulle kan asemhaal terwyl hul mond heeltemal besig is met die sluk—dat’s baie diere. ’n Studie van 2013 het bevind dat van ’n groep moeraskonyne wat met radiosenders toegerus is en in luislanggebied vrygelaat is, 77 persent van dié wat binne ’n jaar dood is, deur luislange geëet is. Wetenskaplikes sê dat die slange verantwoordelik is vir 'n onlangse daling van 90 tot 99 persent in die klein soogdierbevolking in die nasionale park.

Niemand weet hoeveel luislange nou daar buite is nie. Skattings strek van 10 000 tot miskien honderdduisende. 'n Probleem om hulle te probeer tel, is dat dit wat wetenskaplikes noem “kripties”—moeilik is om op te spoor. Hul swart-bruin-bruin-bruin kamoeflering pas perfek in die vlei, sowel as in die hoër sanderige grond wat nog 'n deel van hul reeks uitmaak. Hulle is goeie swemmers en kan 'n halfuur of langer onder die water bly. Frank Mazzotti, 'n wetenskaplike wat hulle al meer as 'n dekade bestudeer, het my vertel van 'n tyd toe hy en sy kollegas 'n luislang gevang het, 'n radiosender vir navorsingsdoeleindes aangeheg en dit vrygestel het. “Ek het die agterkant van die slang vasgehou en die voorkant was in vlak water,” het Mazzotti gesê. “Ek het gekyk en gekyk, maar ek kon nie die voorkant van 'n slang sien waaraan ek vasgehou het nie. Dit’s toe ek verstaan ​​dat hierdie slange was amazing—en ons was in die moeilikheid.”

Die Everglades, 'n uitgestrekte subtropiese vleiland, is anders as enige ander plek op aarde. Dit is in wese 'n wye, vlak, uiters stadig-bewegende rivier—soms 'n “rivier van gras”— genoem wat van Lake Okeechobee oor die suidelike kwart van die staat vloei. Noord na suid dek dit meer as honderd myl. Florida’ se poreuse kalksteengrondslag verskaf sy vloer, en die plante wat oor millennia gegroei en verval het, het lae turf bo-op dit neergelê. Die Everglades strek oor meer as 50 myl oos na wes en sluit saaggras-prairie, denneboom-bedekte grond, klein kalksteen-eilande, sipresmoerasse en mangrove-woude langs die see in.

(Bron: Freevectormaps.com)

As die Florida-skiereiland 'n duim is, is die Everglades die duimnael, en die metrogebiede van Miami in die ooste en Napels in die weste is die kutikula. Miljoene mense woon in die metro gebiede, tot op die rande van die Everglades, waar, in vergelyking, daar’s skaars iemand. Seminole-Miccosukee Indiane, wat die Amerikaanse weermag nie in die 19de eeu kon verdryf nie, beset verskeie reservasies in en om die Everglades. Byna niemand anders het blykbaar uitgepluis hoe om in die area te woon sonder om dit te beskadig nie. Toe vere 'n mode-woede was, honderd jaar gelede en meer, het jagters 'n groot aantal van die streek’ se voëls doodgemaak. Toe het ontwikkelaars miljoene hektaar vir landbou gedreineer, en allerhande probleme met afloop, brande en (in jaarlikse droë seisoene) stofstorms veroorsaak. Suikerriet en ander boerdery het gelei tot fosfaatbesoedeling, wat die streek se flora verander het. In die 1970's het dit duidelik geword dat omgewingsagteruitgang van die Everglades Suid-Florida se watervoorsiening bedreig het, en uiteindelik die metrogebiede onbeleefbaar kan maak. Staats- en federale agentskappe het grootskaalse maatreëls ingestel, wat steeds aan die gang is, om die situasie te probeer verbeter. Birmaanse luislange is eenvoudig die nuutste in 'n reeks omgewingsnagmerries wat ons die Everglades toegedien het.

Slange is oor die algemeen geneig om mense uit te skrik. Wetenskaplikes wat met slange werk, raak moeg vir mense wat sê hoe baie hulle hulle haat. Maar slange is ook nie mal oor mense nie. 'N luislang se tipiese reaksie op 'n mens is om weg te steek of te probeer wegkom. Terwyl ek oor luislange nagedink en waargeneem het, het ek 'n definisie onthou wat ek iewers gelees het: “Die mens is 'n skepsel van betekenisvolle bedoelings.” Dit is waar van ander lewende dinge, veral luislange. Hulle is betekenisvolle voorneme wat vlees gemaak is, besig met hul besigheid, doen wat hulle ontwikkel het om te doen. Dat hulle toevallig in 'n omgewing geval het wat ideaal vir hulle geskik is, is ons skuld, nie hulle s'n nie.

Tog moet hulle regtig nie hier wees nie. Ons Amerikaners kan nie oor veel saamstem nie, maar die meeste Floridiane stem saam dat groot indringerslange wat die inheemse natuurlewe opvreet, nie 'n goeie ding is nie. Gegewe die luislange’ baie oorlewing voordele, hulle sal nooit uitgeskakel word nie. Vandag is die doelwit inperking en beheer.

Wildbioloog Ian Bartoszek, van die Bewarea van Suidwes-Florida, volg Johnny, 'n volwasse manlike Birmaanse luislang wat toegerus is met 'n radiosender-inplanting in Napels, Florida. Gedurende dekseisoen lei skildwagterslange soos Johnny navorsers om wyfies te broei. Sedert 2014 het hulle navorsers gehelp om meer as 500 luislange met 'n gesamentlike gewig van 12 500 pond uit 'n gebied van 55 vierkante myl in Suidwes-Florida te verwyder. (Gena Steffens)

Ian Bartoszek, 'n kompakte, gespierde, donkerkop 42-jarige natuurlewebioloog, woon in Napels en werk vir die Bewarea van Suidwes-Florida. Bartoszek het eiehandig Birmaanse luislange gevang wat twee en drie keer so lank is as wat hy lank is. By die Napels Botaniese Tuine, waar hy eens geroep is om 'n
nege voet lange luislang wat op 'n grasperk bak, verwys die personeel na hom as “die ou wat die slang met sy voete gevang het.” Toe hy by die toneel aankom, het die slang in 'n dam verdwyn. Bartoszek het sy skoene en sokkies uitgetrek, die dam ingewaai, met sy voete rondgevoel, die slang opgespoor, onder die oppervlak gegryp, dit agter die kop gegryp en uitgebring.

Die Conservancy of Southwest Florida is 'n nie-winsgewende wetenskaplike organisasie wat befondsing ontvang het van die Amerikaanse Geologiese Opname, die Napels Zoo Conservation Fund en private skenkers. Dit werk om die oorspronklike plaaslike landskap te bewaar, saam met die inheemse wild en plante. Deur dit te doen hoop dit ook om die area’s veerkragtigheid te versterk in die nuwe uiterste weer van klimaatsverandering. Bartoszek en die res van sy luislangspan—Ian Easterling, 27, en Katie King, 23, wat albei agtergronde in slangbiologie het—studie en verwyder die luislange om die wetenskap te bevorder en voor die inval te bly.

Katie King, van die Bewarea van Suidwes-Florida, stel nuwe wagslange Dylan en Cash vry ​​op die plek waar hulle vroeg in 2019 gevang is. (Gena Steffens)

Een oggend vroeg in Februarie het hulle drie my na die moerasse van groter Napels gelei. Ter oriëntasie het hulle vir my eers satellietbeelde van die streek op 'n rekenaarskerm gewys: stedelike en voorstedelike ontwikkeling hier, korporatiewe groenteplase daar, en wilde Everglades-land wat byna orals suidwaarts en ooswaarts strek, alles omhul deur die donkerblou halfsirkel van die see. Sedert 2013 volg die bewarea wat dit noem “sentinel slange.” Dit is manlike Birmaanse luislange waarin radiosenders chirurgies ingeplant is (om senders buite die liggaam te plaas, het bewys dat dit onprakties was met slange). Die span volg 23 van hierdie luislange, wat elkeen op sy eie radiofrekwensie sein. Kolletjies op die satellietkaart het aangedui waar elke slang laas gehoor is.

Birmaanse luislange broei tussen Desember en Maart, met Februarie die hoogtepunt van die seisoen. Deur die skildwagtermannetjies te volg, vind die wetenskaplikes broeiwyfies, sowel as ander mannetjies in die wyfies’-maatskappy. Die verwydering van die wyfies met hul eiers—soms soveel as 60 of selfs 100-plus eiers per vrou—is die bevolking-beheer doelwit. Die nie-sentinel-mannetjies word ook uitgeskot (of aangehou en in skildwagte gemaak). Ons het op 'n grondpad geparkeer en in onstabiele graspolle en borshoë woude van saagpalmetto ingeduik waarvan die groot, oophande blare soos kartonskraap geklink het toe ons deurdruk. Bartoszek het 'n radio-antenna in die vorm van 'n horisontale sokkerdoelpaal omhoog gehou en vir piepgeluide geluister. Elke sentinel-slang het 'n naam gekry. “Dis Kirkland’,” het Bartoszek gesê, terwyl hy die ontvanger se draaiknop bestudeer het terwyl die eerste piep harder geword het. Toe hoor hy ander biep. “En dit’s Malcolm,” het hy gesê. “They’re close to each other. That means the girl they’re after must be nearby.”

The beeps led us into sinkhole country, where we waded up to our pants pockets in swamp water, pulling our booted feet out of gripping muck. Saw grass is pretty, but you can’t grab onto it, because it lacerates your hand. Abundant common reeds, which narrow to an eye-poking point at their tip, are similarly unhelpful. Brazilian peppertrees, an invader that is among Florida’s most damaging flora, also impeded us they had been sprayed in an attempt to get rid of them, and thorny vines had taken over their dead branches. The vines dangled and ripped at us. Bartoszek chopped at them with his machete.

The beeps coming from Kirkland got so loud that we had to be right on top of him, Bartoszek said. He went ahead by inches, bent over and scanning the swampy, brushy ground. Then suddenly he stood up and said, “Wow! I’ve never seen that before!” Right in front of him, Kirkland had stretched out his entire 13-foot length along a horizontal branch of a mangrove tree, just above eye level. Another few steps and we would have brushed right under him.

The biologist detoured around the tree and searched in waist-deep water on the other side for Kirkland’s female. I moved closer to the snake. In the confusion of leaves and branches, sunlight and shadow, I could hardly make him out. Slowly I approached his head. He did not spook but stayed still. A tiny motion: The tongue flicked out. Like all snakes’ tongues, it was forked the organ’s double-sidedness helps it determine which direction the molecules it detects are coming from. When the tongue is withdrawn, it touches a sensory node on the roof of the mouth that analyzes the information. Its prominent nostrils resemble retractable headlights heat-sensing receptors below them enable it to key in on the body temperatures of its mostly warmblooded prey. The small, beadlike eyes were watching, steadily.

No female could be found, nor could Malcolm, the other sentinel nearby. The team agreed that both he and the female had probably gone underwater. In the muck, Bartoszek’s feet felt nothing snaky. So, leaving Kirkland in the tree, we bushwhacked back out. The half-mile we covered, round-trip, took about an hour and a half.

It felt strange to be back so suddenly in Naples traffic on vast expanses of pavement filled with cars. The city’s population explodes with snowbirds this time of year. Listening to the receiver in the truck and on foot, Bartoszek and his colleagues homed in on other sentinels—snakes named Severus, Shrek, Quatro, Stan Lee, Elvis, Harriet, Donnie Darko, Luther and Ender. We battled into the bush to find some of them. Quatro had buried himself in a mass of para grass right next to a housing development and a golf course. The para grass was so thick you could stand on it as if on a mattress. Following the beeps, the scientists parted dense greenery, layer after layer, until they saw the shiny, patterned hide of the huge animal coiled below.

In a sandy environment nearer the ocean, Luther, at 12 feet long, had bunched up into what Bartoszek called “a tight top-hat coil” that looked like a cabbage palm stump. Ian Easterling spotted him, having been fooled by this snake before. “Luther is a regtig good hider,” Easterling said. Suddenly a hair-raising rattling came from an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake on the ground a few feet away. Katie King, whose specialty is rattlesnakes, reacted ecstatically. Her eyes were like a happy kid’s as she exclaimed over how beautiful the diamondback was.

Meanwhile, Bartoszek had located Luther’s sometime consort, Harriet—one of two transmitter-bearing females the team follows, to learn more about the behavior of female pythons. She had sheltered in a nearby gopher tortoise burrow. Bartoszek put a flexible tube with a camera at its end down the burrow to see if any other snakes were with her. The large, coiled-up snake was alone and stared into the lens, irate. Once, in a similar burrow, he found what’s called a “breeding ball” of pythons. It included a 14-foot-long female and six males. “We were catching snakes so fast, each of us had one in each hand, and I was standing on the others so they couldn’t get away,” Bartoszek said.

The snakes cross boundary lines, so Bartoszek and company do, too. Getting access to state and federal lands, acreage owned by private developers, and dirt tracks through horizon-spanning vegetable farms requires diplomacy, which is a big part of Bartoszek’s job. Tracking Stan Lee, a sentinel who had recently wandered into a farm, Bartoszek got a cheerful wave-through from a farm supervisor. Stan Lee’s beeps came from a marsh beyond long rows of vegetable crops. The snake had last been spotted on the other side of a field of farm equipment. In all likelihood, he had found his way through that field during the last 24 hours, winding among harvesters, gang plows and fertilizer sprayers.

According to universally known cop lore, undercover police are arrested with the criminals they’ve been investigating, so as not to blow their cover. Not so with sentinel snakes, who are left to identify more targets. The other pythons out there never seem to suspect. Elvis, the longest-surviving sentinel, who is also the longest continuously tracked Burmese python in the world (since 2013), has led the team to 17 other pythons, and has been recaught numerous times to have his transmitter’s battery replaced.

At the conservancy’s science lab, a veterinarian euthanizes the captured nonsentinel snakes with an injection of a drug approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Then the snakes go into a freezer for future study. (Later they are incinerated so that nothing ingests the euthanizing chemicals.) One morning Bartoszek invited me to a necropsy of a python the team had captured three weeks before. The snake, a 13-foot, 80-pound female, was in the final thawing stage, piled in coils in and around a metal sink. When I walked in, Bartoszek said, “Twelve thousand five hundred pounds of Burmese pythons have come through that door in the last six years. And we caught all of them within 55 square miles around Naples. The Everglades ecosystem is about 5,000 square miles. Consider that fact when you’re wondering how many pythons might be in the Everglades.”

Katie King, Ian Bartoszek and Ian Easterling examine euthanized pythons, including the second largest they’ve caught, at their lab in Naples, Florida. (Gena Steffens)

Easterling and King stretched the python belly-up on the long, marble-topped dissection table. Bartoszek went on, “It is possible that a Burmese python converts about half of the weight of the animals it consumes into its own body mass. So that 12,500 pounds of snake could represent 25,000 pounds of native wildlife󈟜 1/2 tons of animals and birds taken out of the Southwest Florida ecosystem. If nothing were done about these pythons, they could eventually convert our entire wildlife biomass into one giant snake.”

With a scalpel, Easterling began to slit the snake’s belly, starting just below the chin. He showed me the tongue, a tiny strand of tissue that hardly looked substantial enough to possess such sensitivity. The teeth were horror-movie sharp, and numerous, and they curved inward. Bartoszek and Easterling—and, in fact, most of the people I met who work with pythons in Florida—have been bitten, and the points of python teeth often remain in their fingers, palms or wrists. (Luckily, pythons are not venomous.) As Easterling continued cutting toward the tail and peeling back the hide, the exposed muscle gleamed like pale and massive filet mignon.

The fat tissue resembled marshmallows or balls of mozzarella in bags of clear membrane. This snake, like many pythons caught by the team, had fattened on potentially hundreds of animals until it was bulky in the middle. “We’ve seen pythons so fat that they wobble as they go along the ground,” Easterling said. The long, narrow lungs extended down both sides of the snake. About three-quarters of the way toward the tail, on either side of the cloaca (the single opening for the intestinal, urinary and genital tracts), pythons have small vestigial appendages called spurs. The spurs of males are longer than those of females and provide a quick means of identifying the sex. Back in the mists of evolution, the spurs were legs, and pythons’ ancestors walked on all fours.

Katie King reveals the undeveloped eggs (top center), gall bladder (center) and fat bodies (bottom) of a euthanized python during a necropsy. (Gena Steffens) Katie King and Ian Easterling perform a necropsy on a 16-foot-long female Burmese python. The whiteish, marshmallowlike blobs are fat bodies. (Gena Steffens) During these necropsies, the digestive tract is emptied and analyzed for prey remains eggs or egg follicles are counted and tissue is analyzed for mercury content. (Gena Steffens)

Easterling made a rectangular cut in the muscle and removed a small section to send for analysis of its mercury content. Like other apex predators, pythons accumulate toxins in their tissues from what they eat, and a sample can suggest the level of mercury contamination in the environment. He also swabbed the skin to take samples that would be sent to a lab working on experiments with pheromones as lures for monitoring and trapping pythons. Then he removed the eggs, which were about the size of chicken eggs, and leathery. There were 43 of them. Most important, Easterling checked the contents of the digestive tract he found nothing. (Pythons can go for up to a year without eating.)

Often, undigested animal parts show up: alligator claws, bird feathers (the remains of 37 bird species have been found in pythons’ stomachs), snail shells (probably eaten by prey, because the snakes are not known to eat snails), bobcat claws (larger and solider versions of the claw casings left by cats on a rug) and sometimes the remains of other snakes. Bartoszek brought out a plastic container of hoof cores from white-tailed deer he had found in pythons. Now that the snakes have devastated the population of smaller mammals, they appear to be moving to larger ones. On his computer he called up pictures he had taken last year of a python in the process of swallowing a fawn. “The python weighed 31 pounds, the fawn weighed 35,” he said. “That is, the deer weighed 113 percent as much as the python that was eating it. We believe this is the largest prey-to-Burmese
python ratio ever recorded.”

Snake hunters and biologists have found remains from dozens of animal species inside pythons, such as bird feathers and bobcat claws (shown here). (Gena Steffens) The skull of a Burmese python, which uses needle-sharp, recurved teeth to latch onto prey before wrapping its coils around its victim to kill it. (Gena Steffens)

On an extra-large computer screen overlooking the lab, Bartoszek showed me data points by the hundreds: the current locations of all the sentinel snakes, the sex-seeking routes they had taken during the past weeks, the places where the team had recently captured females, the captures by month during the previous year, the first capture the team ever made, the farthest distance a sentinel is known to have traveled—and more. Were it not for the data Bartoszek’s team has paid for with the sweatiest and swampiest of sweat equity, these cryptic snakes would still be living secret lives in the wilderness, perhaps just across the street. As I left, Bartoszek told me, “We are learning things about Burmese pythons that nobody else on the planet knows.”

I left Naples and drove eastward across the Everglades. Traffic thronged on Highway 41, the Tamiami Trail. I was headed, eventually, for West Palm Beach, in the northern reaches of Miami, and the headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District, or SFWMD. The Everglades fall under the jurisdiction of various bureaucracies, some of which overlap: the federal government, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian tribes, and the SFWMD. In Naples, Bartoszek’s program is mostly privately funded, high-tech and staffed by three people. In the rest of South Florida, the money for python removal is public (or tribal), the number of staff is greater and the emphasis is more on the human factor. In other words, a lot of people just want to go out into the ’Glades and catch some pythons, and these organizations pay them to do that.

The SFWMD, often referred to simply as “the district,” oversees water resources in the southern half of the state, which makes it the most powerful local agency fighting the problem. Since March 2017, its contract hunters have removed more than 2,000 pythons, or more than two and a half miles and 12 tons of snake.

The district’s headquarters occupy a landscaped campus with fountains and a creek. There I met with Rory Feeney, the district’s land resources bureau chief Amy Peters, its geospatial specialist, who handles its python data and Mike Kirkland, who runs the Python Elimination Program. They told me that the district is the largest landowner in Florida, that the entire Everglades have been undergoing a $10 billion, 35-year reclamation project, that it’s the largest such project ever attempted in the United States, and that if, when it’s finished, the pythons have eaten all the Everglades’ birds and mammals, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

The fact that Mike Kirkland has the same name as one of Bartoszek’s sentinel snakes is only a coincidence. Kirkland, the person, is another dark-haired, compact, intense combat officer in the python wars. He has one degree in biology and another in environmental policy. The skin of a 17-foot, 3-inch python that he caught himself extends across his office wall. The Python Elimination Program’s 25 contract hunters report to him. They have his cellphone number and he always answers their calls, which often come late at night, because that’s usually the best time for python hunting.

Kirkland’s hunters are an elite. Back in 2013 and again in 2016, the state ran a program called the Python Challenge, which channeled an expressed public wish to help catch pythons. The challenge dispatched hunters into the Everglades by the hundreds𔃉,500 in 2013, 1,000 in 2016—over a period of several weeks to see what they could do, but the results were disappointing. After that, the district announced it was taking applications to fill 25 full-time paid positions for python hunters. It received 1,000 applications in four days.

Applicants had to show a proven record of success. “Each one has a special gift for seeing snakes,” Kirkland said of the hunters who were selected. He went on, “The Everglades are closed off to most vehicle traffic, but they have levees running through them. We give our hunters master keys to the levee gates. There are hundreds of miles of levee roads they can drive. Snakes like to come up on the levees and bask. The hunters cruise slowly and look for them out the windows, and get cricks in their necks from it. That’s how almost all our pythons are caught—hunters driving the levees. The hunters tell us they love the job and it’s the best job they ever had. They get $8.46 an hour to hunt for up to ten hours a day, and can continue on their own as long as they want after that. We also pay a bonus of $50 per snake, and $25 for every foot of length beyond four feet. Of course, sometimes most of their pay goes for gas money.”

The hunters kill the snakes with shotguns or pistols, or with bolt guns, devices used in slaughterhouses. Often they keep the skins, which can be sold the rest they leave for scavengers. Working with other agencies and organizations, the district intends to use every method of catching pythons, including heat-sensor drones, pheromone traps, sentinel snakes and snake-hunting dogs. All have drawbacks: The first two are untried and still in development stage sentinel snakes would come with a risk of their being caught and killed by people who didn’t know they were sentinels and snake-hunting dogs, which can find pythons more than twice as fast as humans can, are hampered by the heat and the difficulty of the environment. For now, the district will rely on human eyes and hands.

Donna Kalil, Kirkland’s only woman hunter, told me to meet her in the parking lot of the Miccosukee tribal casino at 5:30 on a weekday afternoon. The casino and its attached hotel sit in the marsh at the western edge of greater Miami, where development ends. Beyond the casino to the northwest is nothing but Everglades. Donna’s vehicle can be seen easily from a distance because it is a Ford Expedition with a snake-spotting tower on top. She was wearing feathery earrings, a long-sleeved green T-shirt that said “Everglades Avengers Python Elimination Team,” and heavy camo pants that were baggy, to give no purchase to a striking snake. Her long, wavy blond hair went almost to her waist. With her were her daughter, Deanna Kalil, who’s a lawyer, and their friend, Pat Jensen. “We’re on a python-hunting girls’ night out,” Donna explained.

From atop her custom "python perch," python elimination specialist Donna Kalil can spot snakes that would otherwise remain undetected. (Gena Steffens) Donna Kalil handles a recently caught Burmese python along a levee road 15 minutes outside Miami. (Gena Steffens)

She drove west on Highway 41, turned off it, went around some hydraulic infrastructure by a canal and opened a levee gate. Donna has caught more than 140 pythons. Before we started she showed me what to look for. Taking off her python-skin belt, she laid it outstretched in some grass. “You see the way the belt kind of shines?” she asked. “The pattern of the snakeskin looks just like the grass, but the difference is that the skin has a shine. The shine is what you’re looking for.” Then Deanna and I got up in the spotting tower and the truck started rolling along the levee road at a steady 12 miles an hour, with Donna and Pat sticking their heads out the windows on either side.

We drove and we drove󈟡 miles on one levee, 15 miles on another. Night fell and Donna turned on the truck’s banks of high-beams. To the east, the skyline of Miami sparkled dimly. To the west stretched the total black darkness of the marsh. For a while the lights of planes landing at Miami International passed regularly overhead. Once, when Deanna was flying home from Seattle, her plane crossed the Everglades during daylight and she looked down and saw her mother in the truck driving along a levee.

She and I both held pistol-grip flashlights to point out any snakelike things we saw. I kept calling out to Donna, at the wheel, to stop, because I thought I saw something, but I was always wrong. Soon I got used to the way the shadows of weeds sidled by us as the truck rolled on, and to the dark water suddenly glittering among the grasses, and to the occasional pythonish scraps of PVC pipe. Burrowing owls flared up from the levee sides and flew off, calling. Alligator eyes in the black canals reflected our light back to us like the lantern eyes of demons.

The night got later, and later still. Riding for a while in the cab, I heard some of Donna’s snake-hunting stories—about the python she caught that, when she cut it open, had a domestic cat in its stomach, and about the huge python that came at her with fangs bared and she shot it and it got away and it’s still out there somewhere (“It’s my Moby Dick”), and about the one she caught and then let go of its tail, so she could answer her phone, and in that moment the snake slipped its tail around her neck and started squeezing and would have strangled her if the friend who was riding with her hadn’t pried it off. As she talked, sort of out of the side of her mouth, she kept watching and never broke concentration.

At around midnight she returned me to the casino parking lot, with no snakes caught or seen.

The next day it rained, and the thermometer dropped into the low 60s. I used the opportunity to visit a high-rise building in Davie, Florida, just northwest of Miami, that’s another python command center. First I talked to Melissa Miller, a quiet, gentle-mannered woman who is the interagency python management coordinator for Florida Fish and Wildlife. She has been working with Burmese pythons since before graduate school, and she wrote her PhD dissertation on parasitic wormlike crustaceans called pentastomes, which live in the pythons’ lungs. Die
pentastomes don’t seem to slow the pythons down, but they do appear to affect the health of native snakes who have picked them up. Miller keeps track of the python researchers and hunters that various agencies send into the Everglades and how much hunters get paid for hunting where. According to her data, it takes a hunter an average of 19 hours to find a python.

In an office down the hall, I met Jennifer Ketterlin, an invasive species biologist with the National Park Service. She also is gentle, alert and soft-spoken, a manner maybe derived from watching animals in the wild. She described the challenges of working in the Everglades. In many places the marsh’s limestone bedrock rises into little tree-covered islands called hammocks. These are refuges where female pythons can hide their eggs and stay with them for two months until they hatch. The hammocks, of which there are thousands, can be miles from anywhere and are often accessible only by boat or helicopter. Sometimes the helicopters can’t land they hover and the scientists jump off. In short, policing the entire Everglades for pythons will never be possible.

On another floor I visited Frank Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida. He supervises 15 researchers who study the spatial ecology of pythons and other reptiles—that is, where they live and where they go. Python people I had talked to asked me, “Have you met Frank yet?” One of the elders of python studies, he is a tanned, emotive man with a seamed face and a short gray ponytail. “Guys like you get all excited about pythons,” he said after I’d introduced myself. “You reporters come down here and the pythons are all you want to talk about. It’s just sensationalism.” (There is some truth to that. For proof, check out the videos of pythons on YouTube, especially the ones of pythons fighting alligators. Most python coverage plays up their scary side. Still, the videos are pretty cool.)

“What about some of the other invasives, such as the ones that we still have a chance of stopping?” Mazzotti went on. “Like the Argentine black and white tegus, for example. Tegus are lizards that can go into alligator nests and bring out eggs that are bigger than their heads. That’s like you carrying a cantaloupe in your mouth. Just a few tegus can wipe out entire alligator colonies in no time. Fortunately, tegus can also be trapped, so maybe we can still contain them. But nobody wants to hear about that. It was the same with the pythons. People did not have the necessary motivation to do anything about them, either, until it was too late.”

From there Mazzotti moved on to his general take on Florida’s environmental prospects, which he portrayed as dire. Under the current political dispensation more land has been opened to development, more environment-protecting regulations relaxed, more funds cut. As he described it, the influence of real estate and big business in Florida will have a downstream effect that might be of great benefit to pythons, not to mention the tegus.

You can almost get addicted to looking for pythons. On the next sunny day I went out again with Donna Kalil and we covered I don’t know how many miles, starting at about 8 in the morning. This time we met up with Ryan Ausburn, a fellow contract hunter, at an airboat dock. He is a big man with blue eyes, many tattoos, and a long, narrow chin-beard going gray at the top. Again, Donna drove. Ryan and I manned the spotting tower and he saw details invisible to me—a new, experimental style of military helicopter flying back and forth on the horizon, a turtle shell the size of a golf ball in the wheel ruts. He told me about his previous job as a security guard in a casino in Hollywood, Florida, where he used to watch a bank of two dozen TV screens of closed-circuit feed all night. “Looking for snakes out here is a hell of a lot more fun than watching TV screens shut up in a room,” he said.

Donna Kalil drives her Ford Expedition along a levee outside Miami, pointing toward the area where grass meets water. Most of the pythons she has removed from the wild have been found in this space. (Gena Steffens) After hunters remove the pythons, they are euthanized and taken to the South Florida Water Management District, where they are weighed and measured, and data regarding their capture is registered. (Gena Steffens)

We saw more alligators, which splashed enormously and dove into the grasses, and gars finning in the clear pools, and largemouth bass, and egrets, and bitterns, and red-shouldered hawks, and roseate spoonbills, and wood storks (a threatened species, whose remains have been found in python stomachs), and not a single mammal. In puddle-deep tracks next to the levees the endless squiggles of Florida bladderwort, an aquatic plant, kept looking like snakes, and weren’t. We saw no snake of any kind all day. My companions were disappointed, but I said that I was a lifelong fisherman and had plenty of experience not catching anything.

As we drove, the sun went from one end of the sky to the other eventually Donna took Ryan back to his vehicle and returned me to the Miccosukee casino, where I was handed off to two other contract hunters, Geoff and Robbie Roepstorff, a husband-and-wife team in a new Jeep Rubicon. We kept hunting until past midnight, venturing into spookier country south of Highway 41, among moss-hung trees and strange limestone outcroppings. Again we did not see any pythons. Geoff and Robbie are bankers and hunt pro bono, but take the hunting seriously. Our lack of success made them even more downcast than my previous companions were. Geoff kept telling me that I had to come back in August. “The bugs are terrible, but we can guarantee you a python,” he said.

Maybe the snakes were in remote places, mating. From Naples, Ian Bartoszek kept sending me photos of the snakes his team was catching. Just after I had left, sentinels led them to an 11-foot, 60-pound female, followed over the next few days by a 12-foot, 70-pounder, a 14-foot, 100-pounder, and a 16-foot, 160-pounder—all females. In April, they caught a 17-footer, weighing 140 pounds and carrying 73 eggs. (Half a dozen smaller males had also been caught.) All the photos showed the hunter-scientists in deep swamps. Before long the team had brought in 2,400 pounds of pythons.

In wider herp circles, talk was of Burmese python exploits the likes of which had never been seen. A recent issue of Herpetological Review published two photos of pythons in the Gulf of Mexico, off Florida’s southwestern coast. One had been coiled around the buoy of a crab pot the crab fishermen who captured it took its picture, then chopped it up for bait. The other photo showed a python before capture, just swimming along. What made the photos remarkable was that the first snake was more than 15 miles offshore. The second was about six miles offshore. Burmese pythons have been known to cross expanses of water in Asia, but none had ever been observed that far out at sea.

How the snakes got there remains unknown. Maybe a storm washed them out of a swamp next to the Gulf. The photos renewed the question of how far the pythons are capable of expanding their range. They do well in heat, and 2015 and 2017 were the first- and second-hottest years in Florida history. As for cold, pythons usually die when temperatures remain under 40 degrees for prolonged periods. During a cold spell in 2010, many pythons and other non-native reptiles throughout South Florida died. The pythons who survived may have taken shelter in the burrows of gopher tortoises or armadillos.

Regarding the possibility of the pythons moving farther north in Florida, Frank Mazzotti told me, “If the climate keeps getting warmer, and enough of them learn to shelter in burrows during cold spells, and they get into that sandy country north of Lake Okeechobee where armadillo and gopher tortoise burrows are more plentiful, then it will be, ‘Katy, bar the door!’”

According to the ratio of 19 hours of hunting for every python caught, I should have caught one and a half pythons while I was out with the hunters. The fact that I did not even see a python would trouble me if I did not regard the hunting itself as a devotional experience. I scanned the passing Everglades until the details of roadside swampland began to go through my mind in my sleep. The hunters and scientists who search for pythons across South Florida are heroes because they spend thousands of hours truly looking at those details, with mindfulness and quickness of eye.

Hunters such as Donna Kalil—seen here driving a levee road at dusk, when pythons emerge to bask—have killed more than 2,000 pythons since 2017. (Gena Steffens)

Nature is a continuity. Staring at screens all day, we usually have no idea what is going on with it. Its wilder parts don’t always stop at the edge of the patio and the possibility that we might step out the back door and encounter a 17-foot-long apex predator who, to speak plainly, could eat us (pythons have eaten people in other parts of the world), shows poor stewardship, at best. The pros who are out looking for pythons every day fulfill nature’s higher demand that we pay attention.


Antivenom

The sting of a deathstalker scorpion is usually not strong enough to kill a human being. It is, however, extremely painful. It also causes headaches, drowsiness and swelling. Fortunately, scientists have discovered ways to stop the harmful effects of venom with antivenom (also known as antivenin).

Venom from different animals work in different ways, and is usually made of more than one kind of toxin. Antivenom then, usually includes many different molecules to stop the effects of different toxins in the body.

To understand how antivenom works, lets first take a moment to review what venom does to your cells, using deathstalker scorpion venom as an example. This kind of venom contains a protein called chlorotoxin, which blocks channels on the cells' surface. In order for your cells to work correctly and send signals, they must remain open to allow other molecules to pass in and out.

Once the channels are blocked, the muscle cells can't relax. It makes me tense just thinking about it! In order to stop this from happening, antivenom has molecules called antibodies that have just the right shape to bind to chlorotoxin proteins after they've entered the body. This changes the shape of the toxin, making it impossible for it to bind to and block the channels.

Antivenom cannot reverse the effects of venom once they've begun, but it can prevent it from getting worse. In other words, antivenom cannot un-block a channel once it's already been blocked. Over time, your body will repair the damage caused by the venom, but antivenom can make it a much smaller repair job.

Most bug bites don't require treatment by a doctor, but if you're not sure, it doesn't hurt to ask! Snake bites and scorpion stings should be looked at by a doctor, especially if you're not sure what kind of snake or scorpion it was. If you do need first aid, getting treatment as quickly as possible will give the antivenom time to work before more harm is done.


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