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One by one, seven slithering Burmese pythons were dumped into a snake pit surrounded by 400 feet of reinforced fence at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in South Carolina. As they were released last week by a handful of scientists, some of the serpents hissed and lunged, baring their fangs. Others coiled up under the brush. Two slid into a pond in the center of the pit, disappearing in a snaking trail of bubbles. Some were more than 10 feet long and thicker than a forearm. And for the next year all of them will call this snake pit — an enclosed area of tangled brush and trees — home.
Ecologists will track the exotic pythons, all captured in Florida, to determine if they can survive in climates a few hundred miles to the north. Using implanted radio transmitters and data recorders, the scientists will monitor the pythons' body temperature and physical condition.
The fast-growing population of snakes has been invading southern Florida's ecosystem since 1992, when scientists speculate a bevy of Burmese pythons was released into the wild after Hurricane Andrew shattered many pet shop terrariums.
"The question is really, well, can they survive in a place like South Carolina or North Carolina or Arkansas or Tennessee?" Dorcas said.