Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth. They are capable of reaching 23 feet or more in length and weighing up to 200 pounds with a girth as big as a telephone pole! When young, they will spend much of their time in the trees. However, as they mature and get bigger, they are mainly ground-dwelling. They are also excellent swimmers and can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air.
Burmese pythons are carnivores, surviving primarily on small mammals and birds. They have poor eyesight and stalk prey using chemical receptors in their tongues and heat-sensors along their jaws. Burmese python kills by constricting, grasping a victim with their sharp teeth, coiling their bodies around the animal, and squeezing until it suffocates. They have stretchy ligaments in their jaws that allow them to swallow all their food whole.
Burmese pythons are popular pets in the United States because of their attractive color pattern, reputed docility, and the allure of owning a giant snake. However, they grow large quickly and can reach 8 feet within their first year! Unable to handle their giant snakes and unable to find new homes for them, some owner illegally releases them into the wild. Released and escaped Burmese pythons are now breeding in the wild, and their growing numbers may result in dire consequences for natives.
They are considered invasive species, which means that they are not constrained by natural factors (such as predators) to keep their numbers in check. The release of Burmese pythons in South Florida is especially troublesome because the subtropical climate, the vast undisturbed habits of the Everglades, and the plentiful prey enable the species to thrive at the expense of the native and sometimes endangered species. Pythons’ rapid and widespread invasion is facilitated by their diverse habitat use, broad dietary preferences, long lifespan (15-25 years), high reproductive output, and ability to move long distances.
Red-tailed boa constrictors originate from tropical South and Central America, from Brazil and Columbia all the way north through Mexico. Female boas are larger than males and adults can grow up to 13 feet in length and can weigh up to 50 pounds! They are mostly brown and gray with red coloring towards their tails, thus the name red-tailed boas. They live in woodlands, semi-arid forests, and tropical rain forests. Although they love warm, humid weather, they are nocturnal snakes that spend the hot days lazing about under logs or cooling off in rivers. During cooler nights, they hunt for prey, including small mammals, rodents, and lizards. Their jaws are lined with small, hooked teeth for grabbing and holding prey while they wrap their muscular bodies around their victim, squeezing until it suffocates.
Red-Tailed Boas are solitary reptiles, and although excellent swimmers, they prefer to spend their time in hollow logs and abandoned mammal burrows or, being partially arboreal snakes, hanging on low branches. They generally only spend time together during mating, which can take place at any point throughout the year. Females give birth to live babies and can have up to 60 two-foot-long babies at a time!