Friday, June 19, 2009

The best laid plans of mice and men...

...often blows up in our faces or bites us on the ass.

Please forgive my ruthless and repulsive Americanization of a bit of poetry by Scotland's favorite son but honestly, it’s the twenty-first century and bad ideas these days are far more volatile. While this sad and morally empty post of some seriously messed up news is geographically centered here in South Carolina, surprisingly none of my fellow inhabitants of this curious asylum have to my knowledge directly contributed to the situation.

This actually started a few decades ago as the true hideous villains of the later twentieth century, migrating bands of white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant suburbanites, moved away from the cold and snowy climate of the northeast and Midwest to the sunshine state of Florida. They overran the cypress swamps, mangroves, and wetlands bringing with them the collective gross indulgences of American consumerism. Had this simply resulted in what is now my usual whining about suburbia, malls, and golf courses everything would have still been kosher. The Florida Panther, the manatee, and many other native life forms would still be on the edge of extinction but our collective consciousness, or lack of one, could deal with that in the face of such progress.

However, somewhere along the way some bright boy full of that entrepreneurial spirit thought it would be a good idea to sell baby pythons to all those spoiled kids living in the bright Florida sunshine. No longer would those upwardly mobile kids have to suffer catching and the playing with native non-poisonous snakes as they tromped in the woods but now they could have their own tiny constrictor from some far away land. It all started well and good with a glass aquarium tank, some dirt, a few plants, and some cheap small mice bought at the local pet shop. After some time the small mice were moved up to rats, and after that to a live chicken, or two.

This is where the problem started, after a few years the little snake that all little Johnny's friends thought was cool had grown to a four or five foot specimen that just sat in its tank staring at mommy's little dog or cat as it walked by. Even little Johnny, now with girls and cars on his mind, had started to get a little nervous as he lay in bed at night with the snake staring at him from across the room with none of the "loving feeling" still between them.

Somehow the solution to this problem more than once was to have little Johnny let the snake loose in the wilds of Florida. The snake obligingly crawled off in to the grass but instead of living a monk's life and then having the courtesy of dying alone, found Ms. Snake on the wildlife version of eHarmony and started having lots of little snakes. Now we have a problem. All these snakes have taken quite nicely to that same Florida sunshine and are raising a good bit of Hell on the local environment.

Recent stories have popped up of these pythons taking a liking to the free and easy lifestyle. A whole manner of pet dogs, cats and native alligators are on their menu. They are swimming their way down the Florida Keys showing up in Key West for Fantasy Fest I guess. In addition, if my more than slightly drunk brain at that time heard things right some southern Florida schools are even giving small children classes about their slithering neighbors trying to prevent them from ending up on the menu along with Rover, Kitty, and Wally Gator.

The History Channel show "Monster Quest" even dedicated an entire episode to the pythons. As a fan of the show many times I had seen teams of well meaning nerds place special motion activated cameras out in the wild trying to capture pictures of Bigfoot, dinosaurs, the Loch Ness Monster, and several other mythical beasts. The only time the motion cameras picked something up was when several very loose pythons were caught on camera crawling the clear area between the Everglades and a subdivision. The final kicker of that episode was some guy from the Miami zoo telling us that given the environment of the southeast United States the pythons will be quite at home going all the way north to Virginia and west to Texas.
Part of me, the sick and cynical part, will welcome the new arrivals as the spread northward. The hordes of ravaging golfers spreading their sterile green playing fields need some company as they hit their little balls. Wally Gator while offering some stout resistance to the polo shirted invasion is simply ignored now and never frankly had the needed attitude. In my darker moods I often see a crowd playing their eighteen holes joking about the cute little waitress at the bar when one of them walks off into the woods to relieve the gin and tonic he drank a few hours before. This rather robust man in his expensive golf attire is thinking about his radio show and another bottle of Viagra when he hears a slight rustling of leaves behind him. Figuring it’s his buddy, a sneering retired politician with an itchy trigger finger for his friends, he dunks down low to avoid another unfortunate situation. It is then that a twenty-foot python rears up and bites him on the head while commencing to give the famous radio man a hug that no un-prescribed pain killer could relieve. Of course, after days of devastating pain the python crawls away to die after trying to eat such a piece of already spoiled soulless meat.
The news in my little rant is that at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory they have enclosed a few of these animals in an escape proof (hopefully) enclosure to see how well pythons survive in a more northerly climate. These bad boys also have a radio transmitter surgically implanted so that if they get away they can be tracked. All this will provide important information to prevent them from establishing themselves in South Carolina. All things considered as a major proponent of just about all scientific research I just hope all the pythons in the study are male or females. Don’t need any young babies slithering way from mom and dad while they are confined to the study.

Burmese python study kicks off at SREL

Like college freshman being dropped off at orientation, the Burmese pythons released into a snake-proof enclosure at Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Thursday seemed wary of their new surroundings. The snakes are part of a study at the Savannah River Site that's testing the contention that pythons are capable of surviving in climates similar to their natural habitat, which includes much of the Southeast U.S.

Of the seven snakes released into the enclosure, many were reluctant to leave their traveling bins and remained coiled when ushered out. Although some snakes assumed a defensive position, the inactivity isn't unusual for Burmese pythons.

"These guys tend to sit around until something comes by to eat," said Michael E. Dorcas, the Davidson College associate professor of biology who's leading the study in conjunction with SREL researchers.

The study has come about because Burmese pythons, kept as pets for decades, have been introduced into a new habitat. The snakes - which can grow longer than 20 feet, live for 15-25 years and are native to Southeast Asia - were either released or escaped into the Florida Everglades where they are wreaking havoc in the foreign ecosystem.

"There are certainly thousands of them in the Everglades," said John D. Willson, of SREL, who is one of many technicians involved with the study working primarily as a volunteer. "They camouflage so well, we can't really determine how many there are."

There is concern over what the pythons would do if there were a mass migration north.

The year-long study, which is being filmed by National Geographic and will air early in 2010 on the National Geographic channel, will examine the ability of invasive Burmese pythons to survive in a semi-natural enclosure at a different temperature than the Everglades. The study will specifically monitor the survivorship, body condition, weight, behavior and thermal biology of the pythons.

"It's not going to be definitive but it will provide insight to determine if the climate models are accurate," Dorcas said of the study, which is being funded in a joint effort by SREL, Davidson, the University of Florida and the U.S. Geological Survey. "The information will be important in determining what course of action can be taken so they can't be established in South Carolina."

The snakes will be checked daily to ensure they are in the enclosure. It's for this reason that, when the first snake was released, someone cautiously cheered, "Be free ... Within the enclosure."

In the unlikely chance any python escapes, it can be tracked by tracing a radio transmitter that was surgically implanted into each snake Wednesday. The pythons are also identifiable by an ID tag that was also implanted during surgery and an ID number scrawled on it. Additionally, the technicians can identify the pythons by their distinctive patterns.

Aiken is an ideal location for the study since it fits the climate model in question. SRS is a logical site to conduct the study since it's the home of SREL, which already had a snake-proof enclosure.

"It provides opportunities found nowhere else in the world," said Dorcas.


Marja said...

You are a great writer This is very entertaining although at the same time a modern horror tale.
Pythons as pets? That's new to me.
I had a close encounter once with a small snake but would pass out if I met that one. My brother visited the everglades last summer and was luckily spared.He did come home.
I would follow this study closely as you don't need these species in your area don't you. Keep safe and aroha from NZ

sunshine said...

Well so long as they don't travel TOO FAR NORTH!! Hopefully they won't have a passport and be denied access at the border. Phew! Thank Gawd you Americans insisted we all start using them to get in and out of each others countries!
But seriously....

I hate snakes of all kinds! I hate stupid people that buy them and think they make great pets even more. I mean really ... in who's mind would that seem like a good idea?
I went out on a limb getting my kids guinea pigs. (a bit too close to the rat family for me). I can't even imagine how far off of the ground I'd jump if they asked for *gasp* a snake!
I want a dog.... :(
(I like to slip that in whenever I can)
Anyhow.. I liked your little fantasy about a certain fat radio show host and ex politician getting the crap squeezed out of them. It seemed so "Snakes On A Plane"!!!

Suzan said...


Your mesmerizing prose has made me so ill I'm thinking about going home to bed and never unlocking my door. I wrote a story for my newspaper about a friend in my junior high school back in the '60s who had a pet boa constrictor who slept up on the blinds, which also made me sick, but there again, I never had to see it. (His father was a well-known attorney.)

When I lived in Key West, my neighbors warned me about leaving my pups outside for any amount of time due to not knowing what might float by on the canal. Foolishly I thought I could have run out and saved them from any danger.

No more.

Wised up,


Beach Bum said...

Marja: Thank you for saying that about my writing. This is truly a real life horror tale. But like the rabbits imported to Australia years ago one humans made themselves. I expect that at some point something very tragic will happen with those loose pythons. My fear is that given the Monster Quest episode showing how freely these animals move between the Everglades and subdivisions that some small child will be the target.

Sunshine: You guys and gals should be safe. Even with global warming I don't think they will be able to stand the cold that far north.
As for my fantasy I might rewrite it to be more graphic. I took a great enjoyment in that little piece.

Suzan: One news item I heard was that Key West public workers like meter readers, electric and gas, and animal control were being trained to handle the pythons in some fashion.
I have major qualms with how freely people can still buy these things. And to think politicians get all hot and freaky over a little marijuana.

Randal Graves said...

Your stories often have that whiff of the Southern Gothic, though given the not-so-well-concealed identity of the "victim" of this tale, I might classify at least part of this one under comedy. ;-)

I figure by the time global warming really kicks into high gear, we'll have roving bands of pythons up here near Lake Erie.

Vigilante said...

Randal, by the time global warming really kicks into high gear you all will have become roving bands of pythons. Me? I happily will have passed on....

Malicious Intent said...

Just popping in, thanks for the support. If you wanted to hear the sad story of how my pop pop's life ended it's here:

I recently found out my sister has his ashes. Nothing offered to me and again, I was the one closest to both sets of grandparents as she had little to do with either as she was busy getting into trouble and running to me for help.
Thanks again.

Malicious Intent said...

P.S. your presence has been requested over at the house of M.I. :) Front and center!

lime said...

ah the joy of invasive species...

Beach Bum said...

Randal: I had never really thought of my stuff as Southern Gothic, but I like the idea. Especially since your comment I have sort of come up with a short story idea about loose pythons, suburbanite golfers, and why complications with the environment can affect even the most oblivious of people. The only problem is I have three short stories pretty much dead in the water after running out of steam. One of the bastards is six pages and I might have to make myself restart that one just for what effort I have already put into it.

Vigil: Come on man, you don't need to dwell on such subjects. Hell, I have high blood pressure and a family history of heart attacks, so I could drop dead tomorrow. But on the other hand I'm to crazy and stupid to die I figure.

Malicious Intent: Your post really touched me on your pop-pop's service during WW2. Being close to a couple of people who served in WW2 and reading a little history it really is a huge understatement on how much that generation had to endure and accomplish.

As for the award, I accept and will fulfill required duties.

Lime: We have a Hell of invasive plant species very close to home. I live close to a man-made lake called Lake Murray, now frankly I consider it a glorified mud puddle but it is very popular with the proles I live amongst.

As with any water front property huge houses have been built around it and sometime in the past someone bought a pretty water plant for their aquarium which when it came to clean the tank was just dumped into the lake. This water plant whose name I can't remember right now is a very kudzu-like in that it grows at a huge rate and had no animal that eats the thing. So the various local authorities have been battling the damn thing for years even going to the point of draining the lake four or five feet then raising it back up four or five feet above the normal lake level. This is because the plant lives in a narrow range and it was hoped adjusting the lake level above and below its ability to live could at least put a dent into the thing. I think it worked a little but there is a very huge fine for anyone caught knowingly allowing the plant to grow in aquariums or on their property.

MadMike said...

I lived in the lower Florida Keys for 20 years and worked out of Key West until a couple of years ago. I walked for miles and miles in the back country of Sugarloaf Key, and boated for miles and miles in both the Gulf and the Atlantic. I saw alligators and American Crocodiles, as a matter of fact a croc occasionally took up residence in our canal until an idiot neighbor, being uninformed and typically human, killed it. American crocodiles have never been known to take a human life and keep well to themselves.

As to pythons, I never saw one. I saw large rattlers, but never a constrictor. From time to time one was discovered under someone's house, after having "escaped" from a neighbor's aquarium. There were Iguanas, by way of reptiles, but no wild constrictors that I ever found. The fact that there is little to no standing fresh water inhibits the proliferation of many species.

I don't hate snakes. They are animals just like any other. They need to be understood and respected, just like people. Then again we kill our own kind on a regular basis so I don't expect much but the blind hatred of those who don't take the time to care about the nature around us.

So, enough rambling, the constrictors are here to say. Again this invasion is caused by humans, not the animals. They are just trying to eke out an existence. Can you imagine a conversation between two snakes:

Snake One: "I saw a human today. I kept very still."

Snake Two: "I hate humans."

....and so they should.

Keshi said...

u always, I mean always, make us think and open our eyes from ur posts!

Pythons and Pets r entirely 2 different categories!!! :)

I guess we humans can be daring and stupid at the same time!

When I was a kid, I stepped on a snake...and it was staring at me and I froze their for 5 seconds, and I thought I was dead already!


Randal Graves said...

BB, now I must insist that you finish at least one of those stories. Provided you aren't distracted by something horrid like TV crews outside your house chasing down a naked Mark Sanford.

Julie said...

Hello! Popping in from Malicious Intent's blog....

sunshine said...

That was a very weird story about that U.S. Senator, wasn't it?
What a way to get caught!
Is there no decent people in the world anymore? Except for you, me, our families and our blogging friends of course! ;)

Hope everything is okay on the home front. Meltdowns are not fun. After 17 years of marriage you KNOW I've been through one or two of those myself over the years!

((BigHugs)) *if you need one*

MadMike said...

LOL Randal!!!!!

Beach Bum said...

MadMike: The picture at the top of this post is from about 2005 when a dead python was spotted in the 'Glades. It had ate a eight-foot gator and got all sluggish and had another gator try to eat him. The resulting damage to the snake was terminal. This was just another story on invasive species but I do believe that some tragic accident will eventually happen.

Keshi: I think humans are generally a fairly stupid species. Except for you!

Randal: Given the events that have come to light about Sandford I'm sort of eager to see the a picture of the mysterious lady.

Julie: Welcome and come back often. I've added you to my blogroll.

Sunshine: Going on vacation Saturday and looking forward to days on the sunny beach, many cold beers, and doing some good old fashion girl watching. I'm a hopeless pig but generally harmless, at least until I can get dwon to Argentina.

MAdMike: You need to drop by Randal's site.

MadMike said...

OK Beach...I went a'visitin' and even left my mark:-)

lime said...

well that's pretty awful! then again our state tree the eastern hemlock may well wind up dying off nearly completely because of the wooly adgelid, which is an invasive pest that feeds on the trees and has no natural predators here.

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