Ok...someone forgot to tell me about the wild life here in Florida..not only have I seen more lizards than I ever did in Arizona, but this morning I saw a snake on our deck! To me, it looked like it was 20 feet long (objects may appear larger in relation to the phobia factor of the viewer!). I was told it was a garter snake (what? like the garter that holds up stockings?). Ok. So it's not dangerous (but that didn't stop me from RUNNING to and from my car to get past the deck. And I will guarantee there will be ONE high jump record broken if it ever crosses MY path!
Sigh...and now THIS:
From the Naples Times and the Sun Sentinel:
State warns Floridians to watch for giant African land snails
By Associated Press
May 13, 2004
TALLAHASSEE — Agricultural officials want Floridians' help in eradicating any giant African land snails that may have invaded the state because the pest is a threat to people and plants.
The snails, which grow up to 8 inches long, have been found recently in Midwestern pet stores and schools, which did not know the animals' dangers, the Florida Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.
"We must quickly determine whether these giant African land snails are already in our state and if so, eradicate them as quickly as possible," Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said.
The snails can carry a parasite that causes a type of meningitis that can be spread through eating the mollusks or being infected by their secretions. The snails are also known to eat at least 500 different types of plants, officials said.
It is illegal to import the snails into the United States. They are native to eastern Africa.
The species plagued Florida in the 1960s and 70s, but was eradicated in a $1 million program.
Abandoned Burmese pythons endangering Everglades
By David Fleshler
Posted May 13 2004
As Mike Mercier walked along a boardwalk at Everglades National Park, he heard a series of loud splashes.
His wife shouted for him to look, and he saw a stunning sight: a huge snake wrapped around an adult alligator. The alligator rolled over and grabbed the snake in its mouth. As Mercier ran down the boardwalk to keep up, the alligator swam off with the snake in its jaws.
His photographs confirmed what he thought he saw: a Burmese python, a native of Southeast Asia and one of the largest snakes in the world.
Since the mid-1990s, rangers and other employees have captured or killed 67 Burmese pythons at Everglades National Park, and sightings are becoming more frequent. Illegally released by pet owners who no longer wanted to take care of them, the snakes have begun to breed along the main park road, causing deep concern among biologists who want to protect the park's wildlife.
"They're eating native birds and mammals," said Skip Snow, a park biologist in charge of reducing the python population. "They're here because of the international pet trade."
Twice in the past two years, visitors at popular boardwalks have watched as pythons battled alligators. Each time the alligator won and carried off the python in its mouth. Rangers have learned to watch for the huge snakes, and when they find one they dispatch it with a pistol shot to the head. The park has set up a python hotline for visitors to report sightings ("After the beep, briefly describe what you saw, the date and time of your observation, where you saw the snake, and how we can contact you for more details. Thank you.").
In the past five years, the United States has imported 144,563 Burmese pythons, with the largest number coming from Vietnam, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups have called for restrictions on the trade in pythons and other reptiles, saying it endangers people and subjects animals to cruel confinement, thirst and starvation during transport. At a minimum, they say people should have to get a license to own such a dangerous animal.
"We would like to see some type of control over what people are allowed to buy as private pets," said Richard Farinato, director of the Humane Society's captive wildlife program. "We don't think there's any reason to be breeding or dealing in constrictors that can grow big enough to eat your neighbor's kid."
As the home of alligators, panthers and rattlesnakes, Everglades National Park has no shortage of scary predators. What makes the Burmese python particularly scary is that it's a non-native species, which means its impact on the park's environment is unpredictable.
Arriving with growing frequency through international trade and travel, non-native plants and animals can disrupt ecosystems that evolved for thousands of years without them. While many of these species turn out to be harmless, some have crowded out native wildlife. Fire ants from South America, for example, have spread throughout the Southeastern United States, killing small animals and out-competing native ants.
Pythons are capable of killing and eating every variety of bird and mammal in the park, with the exception of full-grown panthers, Snow said. In the digestive tracts of pythons killed at the park, biologists have found the remains of gray squirrels, cotton rats, black rats, opossum, pied-billed grebes and house wrens. And in an ominous development, pythons have been seen with growing frequency at Paurotis Pond, site of a rookery of endangered wood storks.
Aside from directly killing wildlife, pythons compete with them for prey and for space. By consuming small mammals, they're taking food from the mouths of native predators such as bobcats, hawks and other snakes. And by occupying the park's holes and burrows, they're taking valuable space away from native snakes such as the endangered Eastern indigo snake.
While attacks on human beings are rare, pythons have killed people. An 8-year-old girl died in 2002 in suburban Pittsburgh after her family's pet python escaped from its cage and wrapped itself around her neck. Also that year, a Colorado man was killed when his 10-foot python coiled around his neck and chest. It took seven firefighters to unwrap the snake.
Pythons found at the park are killed. Rangers shoot them on the spot. Snow and other park workers capture them with a snake stick, which immobilizes the head, and bundle them into a Martha Stewart laundry bag (favored because it's sturdy and has lots of small air holes). They kill the snake by putting it into a confined container and pumping in carbon dioxide, a method of euthanasia approved by veterinarians.
"The animals are fascinating," Snow said. "It makes me quite angry we have to be in a position of capturing and destroying these animals."
No license needed
Anyone who wants to keep a venomous snake such as a cobra or rattlesnake must obtain a state license, which requires a home inspection of the proposed confinement area and letters from snake experts attesting to the applicant's experience with poisonous snakes. But for constrictors such as pythons and boas, no licenses are required. Anyone can walk into a store and buy a small one for as little as $30.
"You get people who really want to have the biggest snake in the world," said Ben Siegel, owner of a reptile store in Deerfield Beach. "I think a lot of it is a macho thing. It's an impressive animal to look at -- a giant snake that could eat a large deer or a pig."
Aware that many customers may not know what they're getting into, Siegel tries to steer them toward more manageable snakes such as the ball python, which grows to only 6 feet or so. Siegel said it would make sense to require a permit to own giant snakes, say those that could grow to 12 feet or longer, so long as the requirements aren't as stringent as for venomous snakes.
Marshall Meyers, executive vice president and general counsel of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., said the industry supports the idea of requiring a license to own a large snake. But the group opposes a ban on the trade.
"The problem with total prohibition is that you drive up interest and demand," he said. "And you can drive the trade underground."
David Fleshler can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4535.