GAINESVILLE, Fla., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Burmese pythons in Florida can withstand exposure to salt water for long enough to expand their range through ocean and estuarine environments, researchers say.
Hatchlings of the invasive snake species in the Florida Everglades may be able to survive in marine and estuarine environments such as bays, inlets and open seas, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The findings raise concerns the invasive species may invade nearby islands such as the Florida Keys, a USGS release said Wednesday.
"Because reptiles, in general, have poor salinity tolerance, it was hoped that salt water would naturally hinder pythons' ability to expand their range beyond the Everglades," USGS research ecologist Kristen Hars said. "Unfortunately, our results suggest salt water alone cannot act as a reliable barrier to the Everglades python population."
The Everglades, the expansive and predominantly freshwater wetland, is home to the only known wild-breeding population of Burmese pythons in the United States.
"The fact that this study has ruled out one of the most hoped-for forms of physical barriers -- salt water -- as preventing the spread of invasive pythons in Florida, it puts even more onus on human action to prevent the spread of these damaging reptiles," USGS director Marcia McNutt said. "This study demonstrates the distinct possibility that pythons could spread to new suitable habitats one estuary at a time."