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Dec 21, 2013 10:13 AM EST

Everglades Officials Take Proactive Approach Against Rock Pythons, The Larger, Nastier Brethren Of Ball Pythons

Rock Python
(Photo : wikicommons) Rock pythons aren't poisonous, but they're big and agressive.

Typically, invasive species pose a threat to native wildlife, disrupt the food chain, and only indirectly affect people. When the animal can grow up to 14 feet and weigh over 200 pounds, however, humans could be in trouble.

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That's the case in the Everglades, where wildlife officials are investigating whether rock pythons have infested the area, the St. Augustine Record reported.

Rock pythons are not to be confused with ball pythons, or the legal pets that typically find ways to survive even after bored owners release them in the wild or into the sewage system. Ball or Burmese pythons, especially those raised in captivity, are less aggressive, grow significantly smaller, and thus pose less of a threat to humans than rock pythons. Unlike their rock brethren, however, they're established in Florida.

Both species are from Africa, but only one holds the distinction of Africa's largest snake. Rock pythons are essentially the anacondas of Africa and have been known, though very rarely, to attack humans and large animals. One killed a Siberian Husky in the area in September, not an easy feat considering the medium to large sized dogs are known for their amazing endurance, willingness to work, and predatory instincts, according to the American Kennel Club. In August, a rock python asphyxiated two young Canadian brothers, four and six years old, while they were sleeping, according to the St. Augustine Record.

"We think, and we hope, that they haven't adapted to the Everglades yet," said Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

A recent sweep of an area that's yielded about 30 rock python captures over the years didn't uncover any of the deadly snakes; still, officials will continue their proactive approach to prevent the species from following the course of the Burmese.

"We want these snakes away from the ecosystem. They don't belong here in Florida," said wildlife commission spokesman Jorge Pino. "We're trying to get ahead of the problem."

Owners of illegal pets such as the rock python are allowed to turn in their animals to the state without free of penalty, according to the St. Augustine Record. Seventy individuals have done so since 2006.

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