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All in the Snake Family

Most of the invasive pythons living in southern Florida are related to one another, according to a new study.

The numbers of Burmese pythons, Python bivittatus, in the region have been increasing since the 1980s, which has, in turn, led to a decline in the number of small mammals there. A US Geological Survey-led team of researchers collected python DNA samples from hundreds of snakes living in Everglades National Park, Collier County, southeastern Miami‐Dade County, and the Florida Keys for genetic analysis.

As they report in Ecology and Evolution this week, USGS's Kristen Hart and her colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites sequences of 426 and 389 snakes, respectively. From this, they found that the pythons in south Florida are closely related — about as related as first or second cousins, the USGS notes.

But the researchers also found a portion of the snakes to be genetically admixed with Indian pythons.

"The snakes in South Florida are physically identifiable as Burmese pythons, but genetically, there seems to be a different, more complicated story," first author Margaret Hunter from USGS says in a statement.

She and her colleague add that having a better understanding of the snakes' genetics could aid wildlife management strategies.