The Burmese python is wrecking the Florida Everglades ecosystem and have devastated small mammal populations in the area, according to a recent study. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the number raccoon and possums spotted in the Everglades has dropped more than 98 percent, bobcat sightings are down 87 percent, and rabbits and foxes have not been seen at all in years.
Burmese pythons are not native to the Everglades. They were spotted since the 1980s, but were established as an invasive species in 2000. It is not known how they originated, but some believe that pet owners abandoned snakes once they reach an unmanageable size (Burmese pythons can grow up to 12 feet). Another theory on how Burmese pythons came to the Everglades is that a holding warehouse filled with imported Burmese pythons was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, releasing the snakes en masse in a single area.
The Burmese python is not the only invasive species that is hurting the ecosystem. Invasive species often out-compete native species for food, shelter and other resources, leading to a variety of issues.
Here are a few other invasive species, like the Burmese python, that are wreaking havoc.
Zebra Mussel - Zebra mussels are small, usually the size of a fingernail but growing up to 2 inches. These mollusks were introduced to the Great Lakes in 1988, most likely from the ballast of a ship. They have since spread to the Mississippi, Hudson, St. Lawrence, Ohio, Cumberland, Missouri, Tennessee, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. These mussels are believed to be the source of avian botulism, which has killed tens of thousands of birds in the area since 1990. The mussels are very efficient at filtering water, which causes toxins to accumulate. Birds consume them, contract the deadly disease, and die.
Asian Carp - These fish were originally introduced into Illinois wastewater treatment facilities to help keep the ponds clean. These facilities flooded and allowed the carp to escape. The Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers are all connected and allow fish to swim freely between them. The Illinois River is also connected to the Great Lakes by an artificial, man-made canal system called the Chicago Area Waterway System. The carp are voracious eaters. They eat mostly plankton, but do so in such high quantities that they leave little food for any other fish. These fish are also scared very easily, and jump out of the water when they are scared. As these fish can grow to over 20 pounds, they have caused harm to boats, people and other personal property.
Kudzu - A plant which originated in Japan and China, it was introduced in the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu is a vine that spreads so quickly it was given the name The vine that ate the South. Kudzu kills other plants by suffocating them, crawling and wrapping around them until they cannot obtain anymore sunlight. Kudzu's ability to grow quickly, survive in areas of low nitrogen availability, and acquire resources quickly allows it to out-compete native species.