Released non-native pets, a risk to British wildlife

Right to left: an albino Burmese python, Chilean rose hair tarantula and a barred grass snake, which is native to Britain

This photo shows, right to left: an albino Burmese python, Chilean rose hair tarantula and a barred grass snake, which is native to Britain.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, May 25, 2018

Releasing non-native pets poses a serious risk to our native wildlife

Fearful beasts have been spotted beside the canal in Northamptonshire. Deerstalker hat on, I rushed to investigate

LAST year along the canal towpath in rural Northamptonshire we started to hear tales of sightings of a large, exotic and colourful snake, or maybe, more than one.

The similar descriptions from the few people who had had a decent sighting suggested it might be the albino Burmese python — a beautiful golden-blond snake — favoured both by pet-keepers as well as by exotic or even erotic dancers.

It is all too easy to buy a pet python on the internet or from a specialist dealer. You don’t need a special licence. Snakes are being caught in the wild and then illegally imported using forged papers suggesting they were bred in captivity. A six-foot python might cost between £50 and £250 from an internet dealer.

Sadly these extremely popular pet pythons grow quickly and are often released or escape when they grow too large for their tanks.

In the wild they can grow up to 19 feet long. They eat small mammals and birds and would have no problem living beside the canal or at other locations in our countryside.

The RSPCA says it is receiving more snake calls than ever before. Between January and midsummer over 200 exotic animals had been reported — including pythons, other snakes, lizards and even tarantulas.

Snakes escape from their homes all year round, but if they do so in winter they find somewhere dark and hibernate there until the weather improves.

There are fears reptile owners are dumping snakes in the wild because they cannot look after them. The more you feed your snake the bigger it grows.

Scary tales of giant escaped snakes frequently appear in the media.

Dan Brandon — an experienced snake handler — was found strangled at his home in Hampshire last summer. One of his many snakes, a pet python, was out of its pen and lying near the body.

The experienced snake enthusiast died of asphyxiation. The coroner had to decide whether the python played any role in its owner’s death. This was the first time a python has ever been linked to a death in Britain.

It is quite rare for pythons to attack humans. In the US, where snake keeping is far more common, more than 20 people have died in constrictor snake-related incidents in the last decade.

In 2013, two Canadian brothers aged four and six years old were killed after an African rock python escaped from its cage in a pet shop near their bedroom

Other British press stories include that of a boa constrictor as thick as a man’s thigh and over eight feet long that turned up at Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital near Salisbury. It was dumped at the entrance during the early hours of the morning. Wildlife care supervisor Marilyn Korkis said: “It took two people to lift it. It was huge — the thickness of a man’s thigh.”

Soldiers training in Farnborough, Hants, found a 6ft-long anaconda. The soldiers captured the yellow-coloured snake and brought it to an RSPCA centre in Brighton where it was cared for while an appeal went out to trace the owner.

Peter Yarde, on behalf of the RSPCA, told the Morning Star: “Exotic pets often end up in our care after people realise they’re not easy to care for or once the novelty wears off. Hundreds are reported every year.

“Some are rescued after they’ve escaped, some have been released on purpose. Some species can be difficult for us to re-home, due to a lack of suitable homes or interest.

“Non-native species may not survive in our countryside and are illegal to release, as they could be an invasive species posing a risk to our native wildlife.”

Exotic reptiles and amphibians began surging in popularity as pets in the early 1990s in Europe, the US and Japan. From 2004 to 2014, the EU imported nearly 21 million. In the US an estimated 4.7 million households owned at least one reptile in 2016.

Plucking animals from the wild is cheaper and easier than setting up a breeding operation. Generally, villagers capture animals in forests and fields, and sell them to middlemen who pass them on to legal reptile farms.

The owners of the farms acquire forged or original government paperwork certifying that the animals were captive-bred.

As long as I have been studying and writing about British reptiles I have understood that Britain is home to three kinds of wild snake.

The grass snake, the very rare smooth snake and the only British venomous snake the adder or viper.

We also have a legless lizard, the slow worm which is often confusingly identified as a snake.

Now it seems there are four native snakes and have always been four. The newly identified species is the barred grass snake, Natrix helvetica. It is now recognised as a species in its own right distinct from the common or eastern grass snake (Natrix natrix).

I have often written about grass snakes, which grow to more than one metre (3ft) in length, live near water and mainly feed on amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts. One neighbour of mine has a five foot long example living wild in her large garden.

The newly identified barred grass snake is more greyish in colour than its olive green cousin and lacks its most striking feature, a bright yellow collar. Dark bands along the body are much more pronounced than in their common cousin.

The most numerous snake in Britain is the adder — the only native venomous snake. Bite symptoms include immediate and intense pain, followed by swelling and tingling. The last person in Britain to die from a wild snake bite was in 1975.

Adders are relatively common in areas of rough, open countryside and are often associated with woodland edge habitat, however, they are very choosy about their locations and the breed is under serious threat of extinction. They can grow up to 3ft and live for 15 years.

Despite the fact that in Britain, it is illegal to kill, injure, harm, or sell them many adders and indeed other snakes are killed deliberately.

Please don’t join in the slaughter. If you see an adder keep clear and let it live in peace. If you see a more exotic snake report it to the RSPCA or your local wildlife trust.


Garter snake in the USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

10 April 2018

Garter Snake likely just emerged from its hibernation den and is trying to warm up in the sun. They coiled up and put on a threatening show when accidentally surprised, but they are very beneficial and harmless snakes and should just be left alone. This one probably thinks its act worked, unfortunately too many people kill helpless snakes when they come across them.

Russell’s viper strikes, slow motion

This 25 March 2018 BBC video says about itself:

Slow Mo! Watch this amazing footage of a Russell’s Viper repeatedly striking – you’ll never walk barefoot again!

Snake bites on video

This video says about itself:

Snake bites compared in Slow Mo: Spectacled Cobra vs Saw Scaled Viper | BBC Earth

18 March 2018

Spectacled Cobra vs Saw Scaled Viper – which snake is striking to bite every time? Watch this amazing Slow Mo footage to find out.

Pythons are good mothers, new research

This video says about itself:

Southern African Pythons mating – South Africa

3 January 2017

Southern African Pythons. Along a cliff-line just outside of Osindisweni, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Filmed by Jason Arnold of Universal Reptiles.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Cold-bloodedpythons make for caring moms

Female Southern African pythons are the first ever egg-laying snake shown to care for their babies — at great cost to themselves

March 14, 2018

Summary: The female Southern African python is the first ever egg-laying snake species shown to care for their babies. This comes at great cost to themselves, as they never eat during the breeding period — with many snakes starving — and turn their color to black in order to attract more sun while basking to raise their body temperature.

Reptiles are usually thought of as cold-blooded (an outdated term), simple animals that certainly don’t care for their young.

Behaviours such as family living and parental care are usually not associated with snakes, and are only associated with mammals and birds. However, this may be more as a result of the lack of research on reptiles, than as a result of their actual behaviour.

A recent study by Professor Graham Alexander from the Alexander Herp Lab at the Wits School of Animal Plant and Environmental Sciences has found that female southern African pythons not only incubate their eggs, but they also stay at the nest, caring for their babies for about two weeks after the eggs have hatched. During this time, the babies spend the nights protected and warmed in their mother’s coils, secure in the nest chamber.

“This is the first-ever report of maternal care of babies in an egg-laying snake”, says Alexander, whose findings are based on seven years of intensive fieldwork at the Dinokeng Game Reserve, just north of Pretoria. During this time, he tracked 37 pythons through the use of radio transmitters. These results, and other surprising discoveries were recently published in the Journal of Zoology (London). During the study, eight of the radio-tracked pythons laid eggs in aardvark burrows, and Alexander recorded their breeding behaviour using infrared video cameras carefully lowered into the nest chambers.

“I was amazed by the complex reproductive biology of this iconic snake,” said Alexander.

The female python’s protective behaviour towards her offspring comes at great cost to themselves. The females do not eat at all during the breeding cycle — a period of more than six months — and lose about 40% of their body mass over this time. The females also turn black when breeding — a process which Alexander has termed ‘facultative melanism’ — an adaptation that probably increases rates of heating while basking in the sunlight.

“Efficient basking is probably crucial for incubation. Unlike some other python species, southern African pythons are unable to warm their eggs by elevating their metabolism. Instead, our pythons bask near to the burrow entrance until their body temperature is almost 40 °C (within a few degrees of lethal temperatures), and they then coil around the eggs to warm them with their sun-derived body heat.”

The body temperatures of receptive, pregnant and brooding females in the study were more than 5 °C warmer than non-reproductive females.

Even the body temperatures of baby-attending mothers were significantly higher than non-breeding females.

“All of this takes its toll on mother pythons: they take a long time to recover after breeding and so can only produce a clutch every second or third year, depending on how many meals they are able to catch in the months after leaving the nest. Some of them never recover.”

Alexander’s team have recorded instances of females breeding of starvation after breeding.

“Perhaps they just became too weakened to catch food”, says Alexander.

Fortunately all the animals tracked during the study survived, but none of them bred in the following year.

Another surprising finding in the study was the fact that the male pythons followed receptive females around for months.

“In one case, one male was recorded following a female for more than 2 km over a three-month period,” says Alexander.

Alexander’s findings suggest that we still have lots to learn about the reproductive biology of snakes.

“Research is showing that snake reproductive biology is far more complex and sophisticated than we previously thought, and there is a range of behaviours that have been recorded in several species that can be classed as maternal care. For example, biologists are discovering that females of many types of rattlesnakes show maternal care of babies. In some species, mothers appear to even cooperate by taking shifts to look after young. But all these species are live bearing — our python is the first egg laying species that has been shown to care for its babies.”

Grass snakes survived Ice Age

This video from Britain says about itself:



These reptiles had been huddling together for warmth and are waking up.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

Cool Snake – Warmth-loving Grass Snake survived the Ice Age in Central Europe

February 9, 2018

Using genetic analyses, Senckenberg scientists have discovered that not all Grass Snakes retreated to warm southern refugia during the last Central European Ice Age. Together with a colleague from Spain, they offer first evidence for the survival of a warmth-loving, egg-laying reptile during this cold period. The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Among the warmth-loving reptiles, the Grass Snake is generally considered a “cool” representative: Its present distribution even extends to the Siberian permafrost soils and the area around the Finnish-Russian Lake Ladoga. “However, it came as a complete surprise to all of us that this thermophilic snake actually ‘overwintered’ in Central Europe during the Pleistocene Ice Age”, explains Professor Dr. Uwe Fritz, director of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

Until now it had been assumed that thermophilic reptiles survived the Ice Ages only on the southern peninsulas of Europe and spread northward once the temperatures rose again during the Holocene and the interglacial periods. Using genetic methods, Fritz, his doctoral student Carolin Kindler, and their Spanish colleague, Eva Graciá now discovered that not all of the snakes, which are widespread across Europe today, retreated to warmer, Mediterranean regions.

The team examined a total of 1,372 genetic samples of these harmless reptiles. “We closely studied different genetic lineages of the Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) and the Eastern Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)”, explains Kindler and continues, “One of the lineages of Natrix natrix survived the Ice Age in two separate refugia: one was located in the Southern Balkans, the other — unexpectedly — in Central Europe.”

As evidence, the scientists from Dresden highlight the much higher genetic diversity — compared to their more southerly relatives — of the Grass Snakes in Northern Germany and Scandinavia.

“This means that we need to rethink the model of ‘southern warm refugia’ — areas of retreat in the Mediterranean region — during the Ice Ages. It is quite possible that other heat-loving animals also withstood the cold temperatures directly ‘at home'”, adds Fritz in summary.

Dinosaur age snakes, video

This video says about itself:

5 February 2018

90 million years ago, an ancient snake known as Najash had…legs. It is by no means the only snake to have limbs either. But what’s even stranger: we’re not at all sure where it came from.