Pythons Can Survive in Saltwater, Could Invade Florida Keys

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For now, Florida's invasive python population has largely been relegated to the fresh water of the Everglades and surrounding areas, but a new study shows the alien snakes can survive for up to a month in saltwater. That means there's potential the snakes could expand their range and start popping up in more populated areas such as the Florida Keys.

The snakes, believed to have been introduced to the swamps of Florida by deadbeat pet owners who decided to free their imported reptiles into the wild, have caused a major problem for the Everglades' ecosystem. They compete with the area's natural predators and prey on other species indigenous to one of America's most unique national parks.

Now a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology suggests the snakes could soon find their way outside the Glades.

Reptiles generally do not survive for long in saltwater, but lead researcher Kristen Hart and her team decided to test Burmese pythons' exact tolerance to saltwater.

Python hatchlings exposed to saltwater were not immediately killed and could survive for up to one month in even the most saline-heavy water. The hatchlings could survive up to five months in brackish water. The study was conducted completely within a lab, and the authors warn that the data might underestimate the length of time hatchlings could survive in natural settings.

"Because reptiles, in general, have poor salinity tolerance, it was hoped that saltwater would naturally hinder pythons' ability to expand their range beyond the Everglades," Hart says, according to the New York Times. "Unfortunately, our results suggest saltwater alone cannot act as a reliable barrier to the Everglades python population."

That means, in theory at least, the invasive snakes could survive a trip from the Everglades to the Florida Keys. That's not good news for those hoping the snakes would be contained solely to the Glades.

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