Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giant Snakes Want to Go On Dates

When I was a little girl my father told us stories about anacondas, the biggest snake in the world. He told us how they could wrap themselves around a whole deer until he was dead and then swallow him whole. He was probably particularly interested in anacondas because he used to work for Anaconda Wire and Cable. (Electric cable with improved resistance to moisture penetration, United States Patent 3315025 Google Fu is strong! I found my dad's patent in under a minute.) Anyway, while Anaconda Wire and Cable was being sold and resold until they ceased to exist as a company the real live anacondas and other large constrictors were also being sold and resold as pets. Unfortunately they don't become less valuable until they disappear. They become big and scary and their owners just stupidly let them go in the wild. Stupid isn't even a strong enough word. This is an irresponsible, egregious, and ILLEGAL thing to do.
379.305. Rules and regulations; penalties
(1) The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission may prescribe such other rules and regulations as it may deem necessary to prevent the escape of venomous reptiles or reptiles of concern, either in connection of construction of such cages or otherwise to carry out the intent of ss. 379.372-379.374.
(2) A person who knowingly releases a nonnative venomous reptile or reptile of concern to the wild or who through gross negligence allows a nonnative venomous reptile or reptile of concern to escape commits a Level Three violation, punishable as provided in s. 379.4015.
I looked up s. 379.4015. That's a first degree misdemeanor which is jail time under one year and a maximum fine of $1000. If you do it twice the fine is no less than $750.  I'm not sure that's much of a dis-incentive. I think they should be made to have that nightmare I had about the Inland Taipan (see comments) every night for a month. Invasive exotic species are one of my real pet peeves.

I clicked a link in the USGS Twitter feed today to the Giant Constrictor Risk Assessment:
Frequently Asked Questions
. It was a pretty good read. I'm still gradually coming to understand how little regular people understand about nature. OK, about anything. People are really ignorant. They don't seem to think very far ahead. When you try to tell them what you think might go wrong they tend to dismiss it because their brains aren't trained to think that way. Hopefully explaining very specific instances where your worst case scenario has ALREADY played out will help, like this comparison to Guam.
Q: How could these giant snakes change South Florida’s ecosystems? What about other ecosystems?

The most likely avenue for ecosystem change would be that introduced giant constrictors would change food webs by eliminating or depleting vulnerable native species. If enough species are lost, entire ecosystem processes could be changed. For example, on Guam the introduced brown treesnake has eliminated most native vertebrates (birds, bats, and lizards) that pollinate trees and flowers. Consequently, these native animals are not available to disperse seeds. As a result, some of the native trees have greatly declined in abundance, and may disappear.

Similarly, as fish-eating birds have been lost from Guam, the natural nitrogen transport from aquatic and marine systems to bird rookeries on land has been lost as well. Some Burmese pythons in the Everglades accumulate extremely high levels of mercury in their body tissues, potentially poisoning higher level predators that might eat them, such as alligators and panthers. We do not yet know how a specific system in South Florida would be disrupted by the addition of a novel predator, but from experience with other ecosystems disturbed by introduced snakes we know that serious disruption is a distinct possibility.

Today I also came across this incredibly elaborate flow chart regarding the social suitability of certain partners. So people have no problem working through what-ifs for stuff like this because it's about people? But they don't give a crap about snakes and bats and fish and birds and trees? What a bunch of weirdos.

From Erik Bryan's article in The Morning News

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