California chain python: far-reaching consequences must breed

nature and environment Invasive species

Worried about California chain snake

California chain snake

California Lampropeltis is a skilled hunter and a “novice snake” for reptile breeders

Source: dpa / Andrea Warnecke

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The European Union now lists the California chain snake as an invasive species, and in Germany it has been seen twice this year — no problem, says one expert. Another warns of far-reaching consequences if snakes multiply.

aOn the Spanish Canary island of Gran Canaria, the introduced species of snakes almost wiped out the native reptiles. The snake found its way to the island by the end of the 1990s at the latest. In the meantime, the California chain snake has become a regular guest, it has spread, multiplied by leaps and bounds, causing, as it is called an invasive species, serious damage. After several discoveries in Baden-Württemberg, among other places, experts are now warning of snake species, there is a ban and hobby breeders must re-orient themselves.

Recently, two specimens of a snake about one and a half meters long were discovered near Offenburg and Friborg. The California chain snake, as a non-native species, can primarily endanger the Kaiserstuhl green lizard stock and sand lizard, fears Hubert Laufer of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Society of Baden-Württemberg (ABS for short).

This snake is known to experts under the species name Lampropeltis californiae, but it is actually native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. They are considered a skilled hunter and prey on birds, small mammals, and lizards, Louvre knows. Other snakes are also on the list in their natural range. He describes: “The prey was strangled and then swallowed whole.” However, it is not clear whether they will survive in Germany in the long term or if they will even be able to reproduce. “But with the climatic changes that can be observed, it would be conceivable, here sometimes it is warmer than in the Canary Islands,” said Louvre.

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Phillip Haubrock of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt (Gelnhausen website) also thinks this is possible: “Given that this species is widespread in breeding stock in Europe, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear about such discoveries often,” he says. Due to size and higher energy prices, more owners can release their animals for free. However, the world does not expect a rapid spread. Individuals of this species mature sexually after only a few years, and the relatively cold German winters are still on the way.

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The dark brown and yellow striped California chain snake has been on the Consortium of Invasive Species list since early August. There is an EU-wide ban on their trade and breeding, but owning existing animals is not prohibited. They are harmless to humans.

California chain snake in Bresgau

The undated photo shows a chain of Californian pythons found in Glottertal near Freiburg.

Source: dpa / Markus Schwarz

Reptile researcher Axel Kuyt considers the move exaggerated and incomprehensible. “So far, the spread has been intense only in the Canary Islands,” said the Director-General of the German Society for Herpetology and Soil Science (DGHT). “If you pronounce such a ban on this snake, you can do the same for a number of other animals.” Many responsible hobby breeders are now losing interest in reptiles, which are popularly known as “novice snakes” and are easy to keep.

Billions of damage

However, early action to prevent the spread of similar species can be beneficial – not just for local wildlife. In collaboration with other researchers, Senckenberg scientist Haubrock has investigated the costs incurred by invasive species and how they can be prevented. Since 1960, spending on measures has reached about €84 billion worldwide, as shown in the study in the journal Science of the Total Environment. In the same period, this will be offset by damages from losses in agriculture and forestry, from infrastructure or from the burden on health systems by at least 976 billion euros.

Haubrock warns that “by the time we realize the impact of invasive species on the environment, they are often well-established and well-spread.” However, it is difficult to persuade decision makers to invest in something that is not really a problem. In Haubrock’s view, there is also a lack of a broader understanding among animal owners of the dangers arising from “biological invasions”. He suggests: “In my opinion, schools should start here.”

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