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03/09/2005

Unwanted Floridians

As I started this column, my wife called my attention to a boat
floating out in the middle of the little bay we overlook. It’s a
nice sleek boat; the most interesting thing about it, however, is
that there’s nobody in it! Apparently, someone didn’t tie the
boat very firmly to its mooring. Hopefully, it will be retrieved
before it floats out to the Gulf, from which recapture would no
doubt become more difficult.

I’ve been walking the beach here on Marco Island for over a
month and have only seen one dolphin in that time. Now 20 or
so dolphins have died in the Florida Keys after a reported 68
dolphins beached themselves, possibly because of submarine
sonar exercises in that area. While walking on the beach before
dawn, I’m not concerned about dolphins or other animals but
keep a sharp eye out for manmade holes and monuments dug into
or molded from the sand. I was surprised last year or the year
before when an alligator appeared in the waters of the Gulf off
the beach where I walk. This morning, I did spot a dim dark
form on the beach ahead of me and was relieved when it turned
out to be just a part of a tree washed up on the sand.

The chances of stumbling upon a dangerous animal on our beach
are pretty remote. However, I’ve just read an article in the
March issue of National Geographic that gave me pause. The
article, by Susan McGrath, is titled “”Attack of the Alien
Invaders”. These are not aliens from outer space, but animal and
plant species that have been transported from their native habitats
to other lands, Florida being one of those lands. The article
opens with an account of the author’s slow drive at night on a
road in the Everglades, which is virtually next door to Marco
Island. Ms. McGrath was hoping to come upon a particular alien
and, sure enough, there it was sprawled across one lane on the
road - a Python molurus bivittatus! You probably know it as the
Burmese python!

This was a relatively small one, a mere 10 feet in length. These
pythons can live for 25 years and McGrath notes they can
become as wide a telephone pole and 20 feet long. An adult deer
makes a nice meal for this size python! The Burmese python is
flourishing in the Everglades and, according to a report dated
June 3, 2004 on the National Geographic Web site, rangers had
captured or killed some 68 Burmese pythons since the mid
1990s. Pythons have gone after alligators but it seems that the
alligators have so far come out the winners or least managed a tie
in those battles that have been witnessed between the two
species.

The pythons came to the Everglades when people who owned the
pythons as pets became disenchanted with their ability to handle
them and dumped them. Unfortunately, the pythons are quite
self-sufficient and have found discarded pets of the opposite sex
and the result is as expected – more pythons. Of course, I’m
thinking, hey, could they slither over to Marco and set up shop in
the grassy dunes along the beach I walk on?

I was surprised to find that you can still go online and purchase
one of these Burmese pythons. I personally can’t imagine
wanting one as a pet. There was a warning on one site that the
snakes may harbor a “Burmese disease” of some sort that doesn’t
show up right away but that eventually kills the python in a few
years. Apparently, those discarded pets in the Everglades didn’t
carry that disease.

I was surprised to learn from the Geographic article that the
nearby town of Cape Coral also is playing host to an unwanted
and troublesome alien species. This one is a lizard. In Florida,
one becomes used to the presence of lizards, typically only a few
inches long and harmless. Actually, some homeowners welcome
them to help keep down the insect population. However, when
the lizard is black and yellow and 5 feet long, one cannot ignore
the critter. This is the carnivorous Nile monitor lizard and it’s
one mean dude, as I found out on a visit to the University of
Tampa Web site. It has claws like an eagle’s talons, a tail like a
bullwhip and a “serious set of teeth”, according to Dr. Todd
Campbell, ecology professor at the University of Tampa. Cats in
Cape Coral do well to avoid the Nile monitor. Campbell is in
charge of an effort to get rid of these unwanted Cape Coral
inhabitants, believed to number in the thousands.

As with the python, young Nile monitors were and are being sold
as pets. Campbell says that they are mean, make very bad pets
from the start and never get any better. To make it harder to get
rid of them, they’re excellent swimmers, can climb trees, can
hold their breath for an hour, have a range of about two square
miles and have a diet that’s pretty all inclusive. Aside from cats,
they’ll eat clams, oysters and other mollusks, tortoises and their
eggs, birds and their eggs, and just about anything else they can
lay their claws on. They’re also smart enough to run away, at up
to 18 miles an hour, when they hear or see you coming.

They love the Florida coastal type habitat, which reminds them
of their native Africa, if only subconsciously. The development
of communities like Cape Coral and others in Florida provides
additional incentive for their survival. Typical developments
here in Florida involve the laying out and building of homes,
with many developments never getting completely filled in. This
leaves vacant lots and estuaries bordering these lots, which
provide just the environment that the Nile monitors love. How
the first Nile monitors were established is a matter of conjecture.
Conspiracy theorists might say that pet sellers saw that, instead
of having to worry about the red tape and expense of dealing
with African suppliers, they could establish a local population of
the lizards and harvest the young ones for sale.

Hopefully, such a nefarious scenario is not the answer and it may
have been misguided pet owners turning loose their
unmanageable lizards to roam free in the environment. Either
way, the Niles are there and what to do? Campbell and his group
hope to continue a trapping program, attracting the lizards with
bait and then gassing them in a humane manner. There will also
be a natural diminishing of the lizard’s habitat as Cape Coral fills
in those vacant lots and the canals are sea-walled. Of course, the
question then will be where do the lizards go? They could just
move on to other surrounding communities. Could they swim
down to Marco?

I’m wishing Campbell and friends all the best in ridding Cape
Coral of the beasts but would you believe that some groups are
fighting the eradication program. There’s even a “Save the Nile
Monitor Society” and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals) has joined the fray. They argue that the lizards
shouldn’t have to suffer but the counter argument is that the
native species shouldn’t have to suffer either and that we should
side with our own.

We’ve talked of global warming on many occasions. The
invasions of these alien snakes and lizards are only two examples
of what McGrath, in the Geographic article, terms “global
swarming”. Back home in New Jersey, we have to worry about
the alien Asian long-horned beetle that threatens our trees;
nearby towns have already had to cut down many trees that the
beetle had penetrated. We’ve also had our bouts with the alien
West Nile virus in Jersey and we all have to worry that the Asian
bird flu stays contained in Asia. If it spreads, there’s the threat of
a global flu pandemic, the likes of which most of us haven’t seen
in our lifetimes. Global swarming is here to stay, the price of
being a mobile society.

Incidentally, I had no idea that mention of a problem we’ve had
with our condo deck on Marco Island would prompt such an
outpouring of information from my readers. First it was Tony
from New Jersey, then Harry K from Canada and now Ken S
from Nebraska. The problem was related to the corrosion of the
reinforcing metal bars in the concrete. Tony likened the problem
to grid growth in lead –acid batteries; Harry K noted a similar
problem with some roads in Canada and Ken S points out that
bridge decks in salty areas are also subject to corrosion that
breaks up the concrete and that corrosion is responsible for the
decay of curbs and walkways in New York City. Thank you all.

Finally, I see that wayward boat is now back in its mooring and I
have no idea how it got there.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-03/09/2005-      
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Dr. Bortrum

03/09/2005

Unwanted Floridians

As I started this column, my wife called my attention to a boat
floating out in the middle of the little bay we overlook. It’s a
nice sleek boat; the most interesting thing about it, however, is
that there’s nobody in it! Apparently, someone didn’t tie the
boat very firmly to its mooring. Hopefully, it will be retrieved
before it floats out to the Gulf, from which recapture would no
doubt become more difficult.

I’ve been walking the beach here on Marco Island for over a
month and have only seen one dolphin in that time. Now 20 or
so dolphins have died in the Florida Keys after a reported 68
dolphins beached themselves, possibly because of submarine
sonar exercises in that area. While walking on the beach before
dawn, I’m not concerned about dolphins or other animals but
keep a sharp eye out for manmade holes and monuments dug into
or molded from the sand. I was surprised last year or the year
before when an alligator appeared in the waters of the Gulf off
the beach where I walk. This morning, I did spot a dim dark
form on the beach ahead of me and was relieved when it turned
out to be just a part of a tree washed up on the sand.

The chances of stumbling upon a dangerous animal on our beach
are pretty remote. However, I’ve just read an article in the
March issue of National Geographic that gave me pause. The
article, by Susan McGrath, is titled “”Attack of the Alien
Invaders”. These are not aliens from outer space, but animal and
plant species that have been transported from their native habitats
to other lands, Florida being one of those lands. The article
opens with an account of the author’s slow drive at night on a
road in the Everglades, which is virtually next door to Marco
Island. Ms. McGrath was hoping to come upon a particular alien
and, sure enough, there it was sprawled across one lane on the
road - a Python molurus bivittatus! You probably know it as the
Burmese python!

This was a relatively small one, a mere 10 feet in length. These
pythons can live for 25 years and McGrath notes they can
become as wide a telephone pole and 20 feet long. An adult deer
makes a nice meal for this size python! The Burmese python is
flourishing in the Everglades and, according to a report dated
June 3, 2004 on the National Geographic Web site, rangers had
captured or killed some 68 Burmese pythons since the mid
1990s. Pythons have gone after alligators but it seems that the
alligators have so far come out the winners or least managed a tie
in those battles that have been witnessed between the two
species.

The pythons came to the Everglades when people who owned the
pythons as pets became disenchanted with their ability to handle
them and dumped them. Unfortunately, the pythons are quite
self-sufficient and have found discarded pets of the opposite sex
and the result is as expected – more pythons. Of course, I’m
thinking, hey, could they slither over to Marco and set up shop in
the grassy dunes along the beach I walk on?

I was surprised to find that you can still go online and purchase
one of these Burmese pythons. I personally can’t imagine
wanting one as a pet. There was a warning on one site that the
snakes may harbor a “Burmese disease” of some sort that doesn’t
show up right away but that eventually kills the python in a few
years. Apparently, those discarded pets in the Everglades didn’t
carry that disease.

I was surprised to learn from the Geographic article that the
nearby town of Cape Coral also is playing host to an unwanted
and troublesome alien species. This one is a lizard. In Florida,
one becomes used to the presence of lizards, typically only a few
inches long and harmless. Actually, some homeowners welcome
them to help keep down the insect population. However, when
the lizard is black and yellow and 5 feet long, one cannot ignore
the critter. This is the carnivorous Nile monitor lizard and it’s
one mean dude, as I found out on a visit to the University of
Tampa Web site. It has claws like an eagle’s talons, a tail like a
bullwhip and a “serious set of teeth”, according to Dr. Todd
Campbell, ecology professor at the University of Tampa. Cats in
Cape Coral do well to avoid the Nile monitor. Campbell is in
charge of an effort to get rid of these unwanted Cape Coral
inhabitants, believed to number in the thousands.

As with the python, young Nile monitors were and are being sold
as pets. Campbell says that they are mean, make very bad pets
from the start and never get any better. To make it harder to get
rid of them, they’re excellent swimmers, can climb trees, can
hold their breath for an hour, have a range of about two square
miles and have a diet that’s pretty all inclusive. Aside from cats,
they’ll eat clams, oysters and other mollusks, tortoises and their
eggs, birds and their eggs, and just about anything else they can
lay their claws on. They’re also smart enough to run away, at up
to 18 miles an hour, when they hear or see you coming.

They love the Florida coastal type habitat, which reminds them
of their native Africa, if only subconsciously. The development
of communities like Cape Coral and others in Florida provides
additional incentive for their survival. Typical developments
here in Florida involve the laying out and building of homes,
with many developments never getting completely filled in. This
leaves vacant lots and estuaries bordering these lots, which
provide just the environment that the Nile monitors love. How
the first Nile monitors were established is a matter of conjecture.
Conspiracy theorists might say that pet sellers saw that, instead
of having to worry about the red tape and expense of dealing
with African suppliers, they could establish a local population of
the lizards and harvest the young ones for sale.

Hopefully, such a nefarious scenario is not the answer and it may
have been misguided pet owners turning loose their
unmanageable lizards to roam free in the environment. Either
way, the Niles are there and what to do? Campbell and his group
hope to continue a trapping program, attracting the lizards with
bait and then gassing them in a humane manner. There will also
be a natural diminishing of the lizard’s habitat as Cape Coral fills
in those vacant lots and the canals are sea-walled. Of course, the
question then will be where do the lizards go? They could just
move on to other surrounding communities. Could they swim
down to Marco?

I’m wishing Campbell and friends all the best in ridding Cape
Coral of the beasts but would you believe that some groups are
fighting the eradication program. There’s even a “Save the Nile
Monitor Society” and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals) has joined the fray. They argue that the lizards
shouldn’t have to suffer but the counter argument is that the
native species shouldn’t have to suffer either and that we should
side with our own.

We’ve talked of global warming on many occasions. The
invasions of these alien snakes and lizards are only two examples
of what McGrath, in the Geographic article, terms “global
swarming”. Back home in New Jersey, we have to worry about
the alien Asian long-horned beetle that threatens our trees;
nearby towns have already had to cut down many trees that the
beetle had penetrated. We’ve also had our bouts with the alien
West Nile virus in Jersey and we all have to worry that the Asian
bird flu stays contained in Asia. If it spreads, there’s the threat of
a global flu pandemic, the likes of which most of us haven’t seen
in our lifetimes. Global swarming is here to stay, the price of
being a mobile society.

Incidentally, I had no idea that mention of a problem we’ve had
with our condo deck on Marco Island would prompt such an
outpouring of information from my readers. First it was Tony
from New Jersey, then Harry K from Canada and now Ken S
from Nebraska. The problem was related to the corrosion of the
reinforcing metal bars in the concrete. Tony likened the problem
to grid growth in lead –acid batteries; Harry K noted a similar
problem with some roads in Canada and Ken S points out that
bridge decks in salty areas are also subject to corrosion that
breaks up the concrete and that corrosion is responsible for the
decay of curbs and walkways in New York City. Thank you all.

Finally, I see that wayward boat is now back in its mooring and I
have no idea how it got there.

Allen F. Bortrum