Scientists have announced a new discovery that could spell trouble for animal relocation efforts. Researchers have discovered that Burmese pythons have the ability to home in on their home turf even after being moved up to 20 miles away.
The new study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, the University of Florida and the U.S. Geological Survey. The team published its findings at the online journal Biology Letters of the Royal Society.
"Navigational ability is a critical component of an animal's spatial ecology and may influence the invasive potential of species," said the study's authors.
Burmese pythons are normally found in the southern and south eastern parts of Asia. However, thousands of these snakes were imported to the US as exotic pets. Many of these pets escaped to the wild and eventually multiplied. The species has adapted very well to Southern Florida and a large population now lives in the areas in and around the Everglades.
Now considered as an invasive species in Florida, Burmese pythons have wreaked havoc on the local ecosystem. Federal authorities have continuously taken measures to contain the pythons. While thousands have already been caught, authorities believe there are many more of these snakes out in the Everglades.
"Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are apex predators invasive to South Florida," the authors said. "We tracked the movements of 12 adult Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park, six of which were translocated 21-36 km from their capture locations."
Once the pythons were relocated to new locations of varying distances from their home grounds, the snakes started going back headed in the general direction of their original locations. It took the some relocated pythons between 94 to 296 days to return to an area within 3 to 5 kilometers from their original locations.
"Translocated snakes oriented movement homeward relative to the capture location, and five of six snakes returned to within 5 km of the original capture location. Translocated snakes moved straighter and faster than control snakes and displayed movement path structure indicative of oriented movement," said the study.
The new discovery could mean that federal authorities need to reconsider animal relocation protocols since the relocated snakes could simply go back to their original locations.
"This study provides evidence that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses and has implications for predictions of spatial spread and impacts as well as our understanding of reptile cognitive abilities," the authors added.