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The Python Problem GRADE LEVEL: 6-8 TIME ALLOTMENT: Four 45-minute class periods.
OVERVIEW: Using segments from the PBS series Nature episode, Invasion of the Giant Pythons, students will explore pythons and their impact on other species. In the Introductory Activity, students will learn about python digestion and unscramble photos illustrating a python’s digestion of prey. In the Learning Activity, students will learn how pythons have migrated to new environments and the dangers they pose to other species. Students will learn how invasive species, such as pythons, can threaten native species. In the Culminating Activity, students will learn about the Key Largo woodrat and ways scientists are trying to protect the species from pythons. Students will then explore a native species in their own region and create a presentation about the species, how it is being threatened, and efforts to protect it.
Students will be able to:
■Explain where pythons live and how they have moved from one environment to another.
■List python prey and discuss the process by which pythons capture and digest food.
■Describe dangers pythons pose to native species.
■Discuss efforts to rescue the Key Largo woodrat and the reasons why scientists are launching these efforts.
■Discuss one endangered or threatened local species and efforts being taken to help that species.
The Interdependence of Organisms
Organisms both cooperate and compete in ecosystems. The interrelationships and
interdependencies of these organisms may generate ecosystems that are stable for
hundreds or thousands of years.
Living organisms have the capacity to produce populations of infinite size, but
environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension has profound effects on
the interactions between organisms.
Human beings live within the world’s ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will irreversibly affected.
Invasion of the Giant Pythons, selected segments
Clip 1: Dinner Time
An overview of how a python captures and digests its prey.
Clip 2: It’s Raining Pythons
A close look at how pythons have entered new environments
Clip 3: Beware: Pythons
A description of the dangers that pythons pose to other species.
Clip 4: Saving the Rats
A look at efforts to protect the Key Largo woodrat from pythons.
Optional (for research in Culminating Activity):
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
This website includes a variety of information about the Everglades, including facts about
plants and animals: http://www.evergladesplan.org/facts_info/sywtkma_animals.aspx
California Department of Fish and Game/ Invasive Species Program
http://www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/. This website contains information about invasive species in California and efforts being taken to reduce their negative effects on native species and environments.
South Florida Natural Resources Center/ Everglades National Park: Natural Resources Management/ Burmese Pythons
http://www.nps.gov/ever/naturescience/upload/PythonFactSheetHiRes.pdf. This fact sheet provides detailed information about Burmese pythons and efforts underway to
monitor and control the python population.
Click audio to start.
What prey do pythons eat?
Are they venomous?
What rate do pythons move from one place to another?
1. Go to Mrs. LaRue’s blog http://kangerooscience.blogspot.com/
2. Sign into Google with your user name/password
3. Click on your hour and start your blog with your last name and reply to questions on slide 8.
4. Complete this assignment by tomorrow, Wednesday, 5-9-12.
Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth. They are capable of reaching 23 feet (7 meters) or more in length and weighing up to 200 pounds (90 kilograms) with a girth as big as a telephone pole.
They kill by constriction, grasping a victim with their sharp teeth, coiling their bodies around the animal, and squeezing until it suffocates. They have stretchy ligaments in their jaws that allow them to swallow all their food whole
When young, they will spend much of their time in the trees. However, as they mature and their size and weight make tree climbing unwieldy, they transition to mainly ground-dwelling. They are also excellent swimmers, and can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air.
Burmese pythons are solitary animals and are generally only seen together during spring mating. Females lay clutches of up to 100 eggs, which they incubate for two to three months. To keep their eggs warm, they continually contract, or shiver, their muscles.
Burmese pythons are carnivores, surviving primarily on small mammals and birds. They have poor eyesight, and stalk prey using chemical receptors in their tongues and heat-sensors along the jaws.
What do we eat?
Federal Status: Endangered
(August 31, 1984)
The color of the Key Largo woodrat is described as sepia or
grey-brown above shading into cinnamon on the sides, with
cream or white ventral coloration. The forefeet are white to
the wrist and the hindfeet are primarily white to the ankles.
The Key Largo woodrat has large ears, protuberant eyes, and
a hairy tail. The head-and-body-length of the Key Largo
woodrat ranges from 120 to 230 mm, their tail length ranges
from 130 to 190 mm, and their hindfoot length ranges from
32 to 39 mm. Males, on average, weigh 258 g, while the
females tend to be much smaller, weighing only 210 g
The Key Largo woodrat is a resident of tropical hardwood hammocks, the climax vegetation of upland areas in the Keys. Hammocks provide a shady, humid microclimate with less wind and temperature variation than more exposed habitats. The soils are poorly developed, typically consisting of shallow humus and litter overlying the limestone substrate, but may become deep in some forested areas.
The Key Largo woodrat is capable of reproducing all year, although seasonal peaks in winter are evident (Hersh 1981). Key Largo woodrat litter sizes range from one to four young, with two most common. Female woodrats can produce two litters a year (Brown 1978b). Sex ratio favors 1.2 : 1 male to female (Hersh 1981). Both sexes require about 5 months to reach sexual maturity (Hersh 1981). The life expectancy of the Key Largo woodrat is unknown, but is probably similar to other subspecies of Neotomafloridana, which may live for 3 years but probably average less than 1 year (Fitch and Rainey 1956, Goertz 1970).
Key Largo woodrats are nocturnal omnivores, but feed primarily on a variety of leaves, buds, seeds, and fruits (Brown 1978b)
2. Infer why it is important to save the Key Largo Woodrat from extinction.
Explain 3 organisms that could be prey items on the ENDANGERED list in Florida.