Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Relocated Everglades pythons can find their way home

They aren't afraid of alligators. They eat everything in sight, yet they can be virtually invisible. An army of hunters vying for cash prizes didn't make a dent in their population.

Now there's another reason to respect the horde of Burmese pythons that have overtaken much of the Everglades: Even if you take them far away, they can find their way home.

Just like Lassie, but with scales.

"This study provides evidence that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses," eight scientists wrote in a just-published research journal article called "Homing of Invasive Burmese Pythons in South Florida."

Most snakes don't have that same homing instinct. Move them too far from the place they are used to and they will slither around aimlessly, trying to figure out where they are, the study says.

But not the pythons. The scientists captured six of them, attached homing devices, hauled them away from where they'd been found and turned them loose. They zoomed straight back to where they'd been caught.

The scientists made this discovery purely by accident, said the study's lead author, Shannon Pittman of Davidson College.

They had captured the pythons in Everglades National Park, intending to tag them with tiny transmitters, release them and track their movements, she said. But park officials didn't want those pythons released back into the park, even with tracking devices on them, she said.

So the scientists took the snakes to the park's outskirts and turned them loose — only to see them scurry straight back into the park, right to the spot where they had been captured.

"We were just completely amazed," Pittman said.

Every time the biologists repeated the experiment, the pythons found their way back to their origin. One of them traveled 22 miles to get back, a trip that took nine months.

How can they do this? No one knows for sure, but the study suggests the pythons may sniff their way back using olfactory clues, or they may be able to detect magnetic fields the way migrating sea turtles do.

The study calls for more research into what this discovery means as far as trying to track and control the pythons. However, Pittman conceded that most pythons found in the Everglades aren't captured. Instead, they get their heads chopped or blown off — and it's pretty hard for even a python to come back from that.

Craig Pittman (no relation to the scientist in this story) can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

Relocated Everglades pythons can find their way home 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers

    Crime

    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  4. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)

    War

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  5. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)

    Military

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921