WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Scientists fear that Burmese pythons, already known to be breeding in South Florida, could spread through much of the southern United States.
Climate maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey show the giant constrictors, native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, could find suitable temperatures in an area that includes the southeast as far north as Virginia, most of Texas and parts of the southwest and most of California, Science Daily reported.
The pythons would be likely to threaten endangered species. In Florida, they have even become involved in battles with alligators.
The U.S.G.S. said the affected area could extend significantly north by the end of the century if the climate warms.
Burmese pythons can grow to be more than 20 feet long with weights up to 250 pounds. The Everglades National Park determined in 2003 that there was a breeding population within its boundaries and pythons have also been found in Big Cypress National Preserve, Key Largo and other open areas in the region.
The pythons are popular pets. But many owners have bought small ones and released them when they grew too big to handle and too expensive to feed.