Florida Aquarium adds invasive pythons to wetlands exhibit
TAMPA - If you’re going to accurately represent Florida wildlife in 2013, you can’t forget about the giant snakes. That’s why the Florida Aquarium has added a pair of 14-foot-long Burmese pythons to its revamped wetlands exhibit, which opened to the public today. The snakes are housed alongside the aquarium’s gators, otters, free-flying birds and other native Florida wildlife in the newly renamed Florida Wetlands Trail, developed through a partnership with the Florida Park Service.The aquarium hopes the pythons will raise awareness about the invasive species, which is native to South Asia, and has been wreaking havoc on South Florida’s ecosystem for several years. The population of invasive pythons in the Everglades is approaching an estimated 150,000 snakes. The first-floor exhibit underneath the aquarium’s iconic dome has been updated with wooden navigational signs, maps and other details to give it the feel of a state park. A new ranger station will allow guests to have up-close encounters with some of the animals, the aquarium said. “This impressive trail invites guests to rediscover adventure as well as learn more about the native and invasive species in the Florida wetlands,” said Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium. “As is true with everything we do, education is a major part of this new trail. Learning about our wetlands, the animals that live there and what we can do to protect them and the ecosystem was a key piece in designing this trial.” State park rangers provided environmental, historical and cultural information and input to aquarium staff in the development of the new exhibit. The pythons came from a different aquarium, which received the snakes from an owner who kept them as pets, a Florida Aquarium official said. The snakes are believed to be aged in their teens.