From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 19, 2014 10:15 AM

Invasive Burmese Pythons Can Find Their Way Back Home

There are multiple ways to deal with a critter that may find its way into your home. The most humane – catch it and release it back into its natural habitat perhaps a couple of miles away from your neighborhood.


But this might not work for all species as a new study reveals that Burmese pythons are able to find their way back home even when moved far away from their capture locations.

Subsequently, this finding has implications for the spread of the invasive species in South Florida.

Burmese pythons were first observed in Everglades National Park in 1979 and there are estimated to be between 5,000 and 150,000 of the species in the area. While efforts have been made to control the population, the pythons great homing skills will make it difficult.

A multi-organizational team of scientists found that when six Burmese pythons were relocated 13-22 miles from their capture locations, the snakes headed straight back home, navigating to within 3 miles of their original capture locations in Everglades National Park.

"Previous studies have shown that many snakes lack the ability to home, yet this study provides evidence that Burmese pythons are capable of homing after they have been displaced --- and they are able to do so at a scale previously undocumented for any snake species," said Shannon Pittman, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Davidson College in North Carolina. "Understanding this large-scale navigational ability is critical to understanding the ability of Burmese pythons to expand their geographic range," Pittman added.

To find your way home requires a map sense on the part of the animal, which allows the animal to determine its position in relation to a goal; and a compass sense, which requires access to a reliable compass to maintain orientation toward the goal. The relocated snakes moved faster and straighter than snakes that were not relocated, demonstrating that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses.

The relocated snakes also appeared to use local cues from their release site to determine their position relative to home. Potential cues underlying the map sense in pythons may be olfactory or magnetic that change predictably through space. 

"The snakes maintained their oriented movement over the course of a relatively long time, between 94 and 296 days," said Kristen Hart, a USGS researcher and study coauthor. "This indicates that not only do pythons keep their long-term movement goal in mind, but also that they were highly motivated to get back home."

Read more at USGS Newsroom.

Burmese python image via Shutterstock.

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