Burmese python parasites concern Everglades protectors

Scientists study about parasites' effect on Everglades ecosystem

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BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Burmese pythons have been destroying native wildlife in the Florida Everglades for years. Scientists claim they also carry a parasite that has the potential to kill, too.

Bryan Falk, a biologist who studies invasive species at the Everglades National Park, said the parasites were first found in the lungs of pythons removed from the Everglades for research.

"Both the pythons and the parasites are invasive," Falk said.

A new study by Terence Farrell, a Stetson University biologist, reveals the parasites are spreading to other native snakes. Even more disturbing, they are traveling more than 100 miles from South Florida to kill. Farrell and his team found parasites inside pygmy rattlesnakes at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in DeLeon Springs.

Parasites exit the body of a dead Pygmy Rattlesnake. Photo courtesy of Terence Farrell

"It's shocking. We were really surprised to see these worms crawling out of dying snakes' mouths," Farrell said. "This snake has been dead for 24 hours and these worms have been crawling around inside. They're a disgusting little animal."

Scientists such as Farrell said pygmy rattlesnakes are likely getting infected by eating contaminated prey and are a critical part of the food chain. In turn, they get eaten by bigger mammals. It's too early to tell if the parasite could infect those larger mammals. It's just another way the Burmese python even indirectly is wreaking havoc on the environment.

Researchers flush the lungs of a Pygmy Rattlesnake. Photo courtesy of Terence Farrell

"That's our worry," Falk said. "What's been documented is that this parasite from Asia is in pythons, but is now in our native snakes. And we don't know to what extent the parasite might be hurting the native snakes. 

"The problem started with Burmese pythons, but now the parasite is out of the environment, and it's spreading without the aid of Burmese pythons. And we really don't know how far it will spread," Farrell said.

For a link to the study, click here.


RELATED VIDEOS (Courtesy of Terence Farrell of Stetson University)

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