Pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades

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1 Pythons are at the top of the food chain in the Everglades By Miami Herald, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 719 A wildlife biologist and a wildlife technician hold a Burmese python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015, in Miami, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images MIAMI, Florida Pythons eat a lot. That's no surprise. But in a new study, scientists who examined poop from a Burmese python in the Florida Everglades discovered that the ravenous snakes may be eating even more than experts expected. Some seem to be having an all-you-can-eat buffet. The scientists found three deer inside one snake. Pythons started to appear in the Florida marshes in the 1980s. They are an invasive species, a type of animal that is not native to a certain area. Invasive species can cause great damage to the ecosystem of their new habitat. They often reproduce too quickly and disrupt the natural food chain. This is the first time researchers have documented such a massive feast by a python in the Everglades. However, the study's lead author Scott Boback thinks the three-deer meal could be an indication of how efficiently the snakes have adapted to the marshes. Boback is a herpetologist, a scientist who studies reptiles and amphibians. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 1

2 Pythons Are Taking Over The Everglades "What I think is going on is the pythons are completely monopolizing the biomass in the Everglades," Boback said. "They're taking all that stuff that's out there and just making it more pythons." Snake-catcher Bobby Hill is a famous python-control agent for the South Florida Water Management District. Hill caught the 14-foot female python with a bulging belly in Everglades National Park in June Two days later, researchers performed a routine autopsy of the python. They found a "massive amount of fecal matter" in its intestines that included 12 deer hooves. The contents, sent to the Smithsonian and eventually to Boback, turned out to be a new record for python consumption: one adult deer and two fawns, young deer. Collectively, the deer weighed more than 160 pounds when eaten. At that rate, the invaders could pose a more urgent threat to the marshes than previously feared, Boback said. The marsh habitat is already suffering due to overpopulation of snakes. Deer Population Has Dropped Dramatically "We found one python at one location with three deer," he said. "There could be hundreds and thousands of pythons out there eating deer and doing the same thing." Despite years of tracking snakes through the dense marshes, scientists still aren't sure how many pythons are living in the Everglades. Much of the evidence is circumstantial. Since pythons appeared in the park, where hunting is forbidden, the population of whitetailed deer has dropped 94 percent. The number of small mammals has also decreased, suggesting pythons have moved up the food chain to become the park's top predator. But captured snakes are almost always found along roads, meaning they're on the move and haven't recently eaten, Boback said. "When a python eats a large meal, it just chills out," he said. "They're not going to cross the road." That suggests that the evidence researchers are collecting from captured snakes may be skewed. They are not regularly catching snakes that have just eaten, and so may not yet have a full understanding of how the pythons live and eat. The findings could also have implications for deer populations where pythons are found in other areas, including the Big Cypress National Preserve, also in Florida. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 2

3 The More They Eat The Better They Reproduce Well-fed snakes are also better reproducers, which researchers know because they look at the fat in females to measure their reproductive ability. The snake examined in the study had a large amount of fat, and a large amount of baby snakes in the making. With snakes of all sizes now inhabiting the Everglades, nearly every marsh animal is at risk, from lizards and birds up the food chain to alligators, which have also been found in snake bellies. The snake examined in the study likely ate within 87 days of its capture, Boback said. But it also could have eaten in a much shorter time. And at 14 feet, the snake was not even close to record-sized snakes reaching more than 18 feet, which likely eat even more. "What does that mean for the rest of the population out there? They could be doing the same thing and likely are," he said. "We've seen pythons eating deer but the problem is we have only found a couple and now we have one of them that ate three." This article is available at 5 reading levels at 3

4 Quiz 1 Read the sentence from the introduction [paragraphs 1-4]. They often reproduce too quickly and disrupt the natural food chain. Which sentence uses "reproduce" in the SAME way as it is used above? The scientists were unable to reproduce the results of the study. When the bears reproduce in the springtime there will be new cubs. The artist tried to reproduce the appearance of the light in the painting. If the play succeeds, someone will probably reproduce it in the future. 2 What is the MOST important reason why scientists are concerned about invasive pythons in the Everglades? Invasive pythons could threaten the entire food chain in the Everglades. Invasive pythons are damaging some deer populations in the Everglades. Invasive pythons that have recently eaten are hard to find in the Everglades. Invasive pythons are not members of a native species in the Everglades. 3 Which of the following would BEST describe Scott Boback's reaction to the discovery of 12 deer hooves inside a python's stomach? excited, because it is evidence that pythons will continue to adapt well to their new habitat in the Everglades pleased, because there was concern that pythons were not eating enough and the deer population was getting too high shocked, because he did not realize that the deer population in the Everglades had decreased recently disturbed, because it suggests that pythons are having a more serious effect on the Everglades than previously thought This article is available at 5 reading levels at 4

5 4 Read the quote from the section "Pythons Are Taking Over The Everglades." "What I think is going on is the pythons are completely monopolizing the biomass in the Everglades," Boback said. "They're taking all that stuff that's out there and just making it more pythons." Which phrase from the quote helps give context for the meaning of "monopolizing"? I think going on taking all out there This article is available at 5 reading levels at 5

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