Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Animal Identification Can Bring Some Surprises

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Animal Identification Can Bring Some Surprises

Article excerpt

Public attitudes about wildlife have changed considerably in the last few years, and people have more interest than ever in identifying wildlife they encounter. With the increased availability of full-color nature books and websites, people can often find answers for themselves. The use of cellphone photography is also helpful after the fact in determining just what it was one saw.

However, the following are two questions I received this month that reveal a developing problem related to identifying what we've seen. Sometimes the animals we encounter these days are not native species.

Q: I am looking at your herpetology website ( and am unable to identify a snake I spotted at my home in Columbus, N.C. I have attached a photograph. Can you help?

A: That snake is not on SREL's website because it is a ball python, which is not native to this country, or even to the Western Hemisphere. The species is from central Africa, but thousands of pet ones live in this country. Most folks would be relieved to know that ball pythons seldom reach 6 feet in length. Some pet owner is probably missing this one.

That incident was benign enough. Some people might find the next one a little more alarming.

Q: My wife was driving on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta when she passed a water collection pond and spotted what she thought was a large tree limb protruding from under a hedge. As she got closer, the "limb" jerked back toward the hedge and she could see its entire length -- it was a huge snake. Her estimate of its length was 10 to 12 feet! Could it have been an escaped boa constrictor? To whom should we report this sighting?

A: That's pretty long for a boa constrictor, though possible, but it is certainly much bigger than any native snake. One guess would be a python, the default being a Burmese python, that is an escaped pet or has been intentionally released. Pythons are now firmly established residents in the Everglades and other parts of southern Florida, but individuals can turn up anywhere in the country where someone has one as a pet. I have received python reports from most of the Southern states and as far north as Michigan, Illinois and Toronto. …

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