Thursday, February 21, 2008


We're being overrun by pythons! It's time to panic! Abandon all hope and emigrate to Canada! At least, that's what USA Today seems to hope that you'll do, based on the tone of the article that they put on the front page of today's paper.
As climate change warms the nation, giant Burmese pythons could colonize one-third of the USA, from San Francisco across the Southwest, Texas and the South and up north along the Virginia coast, according to U.S. Geological Survey maps released Wednesday.

The pythons can be 20 feet long and 250 pounds. They are highly adaptable to new environments. ("Pythons could squeeze lower third of USA" by Elizabeth Weise, p. A1)

Burmese pythons are sold legally as pets in the US, with hatchlings going for as little as $20. Buyers frequently find that dealing with a full-grown python is extremely difficult, and they release the snakes into the wild. There is evidence that these released pets have established breeding colonies in places in the wild, particularly in the Florida Everglades. If you read the story closely, you'll notice that the US Geological Survey isn't exactly predicting that pythons will colonize the lower third of the United States, just that the climate of the lower third of the United States could be hospitable to pythons if the one makes certain assumptions about the increases in temperature that global warning could bring by the year 2100. Now go back and count all of the caveats in that chain.

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