Burmese Pythons Retire to South Florida

Allison Loudermilk

That is one big python. Researchers are implanting a radion transmitter in the femal python. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)

What scares the bejesus out of you? Your in-laws? Freakishly big bugs? What about snakes? Because if it's this last one, then stop reading, or for goodness sake, don't move to South Florida. The sunny home of Gloria Estefan ("C'mon baby, do the conga!) is also home to tens of thousands of Burmese pythons, according to a newly released report from the U.S. Geological Survey that lays out the risks of giant invasive snakes in the U.S.

I read about this invasion by the immense, carnivorous, approximately 20-foot reptiles a while back in a great piece that Burkhard Bilger wrote for the New Yorker. Turns out Floridians have a fleeting affinity for exotic pets, which they sometimes tire of and release into the wild. Things have gotten so bad that Florida started holding nonnative pet amnesty days back in 2006 during which pet owners can turn in their beloved exotics without recriminations. During one such recent event, the haul was six emperor scorpions and 46 reptiles, including 12 Burmese pythons, according to an Orlando Sentinel story.

Fine. Don't move to Florida. Big deal. But that's the thing about invasive species. They don't tend to remain in one place -- and they certainly don't respect state lines. Factor in some characteristic wanderlust and an enormous, nondiscriminating appetite, and suddenly you might be thinking about Burmese pythons a little more than you used to. Plus, although some giant snake species would be content to bake solely in the Southern sun, others wouldn't oppose the climate conditions outside of the southern United States.

The other giant snake species, which could, according to the report, "put large portions of the U.S. mainland at risk, constitute a greater ecological threat, or are more common in trade and commerce" include northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors and yellow anacondas. The coauthor of the report also mentions that most of these snakes don't mind living in urban or suburban areas.

Wow. And you thought the occasional stray dog was a problem.

Slither on over to HowStuffWorks.com for more: How Snakes Work How Fear Works What's the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?