Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Python Sighted Near the Chattahoochee River?

    Over the past week a number of folks have sent me this article from the Henry County Report about a "possible python" outside of Fort Gaines, Georgia on Kolomoki Creek. Here's the picture.

    This is clearly not a snake at all but a piece of hose or a section of tubing. Some of our big native snakes (like Ratsnakes) are often confused for boa constrictors or pythons, so from the headline of the article I kind of expected to see a large female watersnake. They can be quite impressive and larger than many people might expect. I can understand how someone unfamiliar with snakes would not know exactly what they were looking at if they saw a big watersnake. Pythons, of course, are not native to Georgia, but there is concern about an invasive population in southern Florida and some question about how far north they could spread.

    Usually I fault the media for not consulting herpetologists or any kind of wildlife biologist at all when they run articles that include outrageous claims about snakes. Mysteries tend to get resolved pretty quick when a professional is involved. But here's where it gets interesting. The Henry County Report did talk to an expert. The article includes comments from Craig Guyer, the Auburn University herpetologist that literally wrote the book on the amphibians and reptiles of the area. From the article:

If this is a python then its likely the farthest north specimen we are aware of”. 
Guyer stated that “the gulf coast region, areas such as Apalachicola to Mobile, have mild enough winters to support a population”. Conservation officials are generally guided by an experiment done several years ago where several pythons  were placed in a large fenced area at Savannah River and none survived the winter.
“Thats does not mean however they cannot be in south Georgia or Alabama. We just dont know, but are very interested in trying to catch this specimen”.
Although Guyer could not conclusively identify the snake from the photo, he said he would have a team ready to try to capture the large snake, if it is located, or if there is another sighting."
    This was kind of a head-scratcher for me. Now, full disclosure, Craig was my Ph.D. advisor at Auburn and we are collaborators on a few ongoing research projects. I was kind of surprised to read about how he not only thought this picture was of a python, but that he was ready and interested in catching the big snake! I knew I had to ask him if the article accurately captured his thoughts on this "python". He replied,
"No, it is not an accurate representation of my thoughts. The author of the article called me up, described what had been relayed to him (two locals coming to him claiming to have seen an 18 foot python) and asked me what I knew about pythons. So, I described what I knew about the invasion of Burmese pythons. I did say that if it was a python it would be pretty exciting and we would come down and try to search for it. The guy said he had a photo from the locals and I asked him to send it to me. When I opened it up I told him that I couldn't tell what it was, but said it was not a python..."
    Now, if you read the original article from the Henry County Report, would you have ever guessed that the majority of the comments from Craig Guyer were from before he had even seen the picture? Suffice it to say I think the article is more than a little misleading. People, relax. This is not a python. It's not even a snake at all.

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