In addition to everything else to worry about, now comes the Burmese python.
The giant snakes are slithering from Florida toward the Bay Area, very slowly to be sure, but inexorably. And they can strangle and eat an entire alligator.
The U.S. Geological Survey released a map Wednesday showing that the Bay Area has comfortable climatic conditions for the python. It also said the reptile, which prefers to swallow its prey in one gulp, is "highly adaptable to new environments" and cannot be stopped.
The snakes weigh up to 250 pounds and slither at a rate of 20 miles per month, according to USGS zoologist Gordon Rodda. They are not staying put. In fact, one of them has already slithered about 100 miles toward San Francisco.
"We have not yet identified something that would stop their spreading to the Bay Area," Rodda said.
If pet pythons were introduced into the wild in California by irresponsible pet owners, as happened in Florida, they could become established here even faster, without need of a cross-country journey.
The Burmese python is one of several nonnative giant constrictor snakes - believed to be former pets - that have been introduced and then established themselves in Florida's Everglades National Park. Biologists estimate 30,000 nonnative giant snakes live in the Everglades, perhaps more. Some have begun appearing in areas outside the park, alarming biologists and also people who don't care for snakes.
The snake that managed to slither 100 miles turned up on the shore of Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida. Another python made it as far as Vero Beach, Fla., on the Atlantic coast. Vero Beach is the spring training site for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the team has not reported any casualties, although its pitching staff could use help. Other on-the-move pythons have journeyed to Key Largo, where Humphrey Bogart once battled Edward G. Robinson.
At 20 miles a month, a determined Burmese python from Florida could arrive in San Francisco as early as August 2020.
"It would be exceptional for one animal to be that unidirectional in its movement, but it's mathematically possible," Rodda said.
The snake's cross-country crawl would be made easier by the large population of beavers along the way, Rodda said.
"Beavers would be a very tasty treat for them," Rodda said. "No beaver would be safe from a python."
The natural enemies of the python are lions, tigers and other large cats. There are few free-roaming African lions and tigers between Florida and San Francisco, the geological survey said. And the absence of alligators outside Florida can only help the snakes on their journey west, although it's a complicated relationship - while pythons eat alligators, alligators also eat pythons.
"A large alligator will eat a small python," Rodda said. "But we are not recommending you import alligators into California. That would not be a good idea."
Along with the climate map, the geological survey also released a fearsome photograph showing just what the Bay Area is in for. In the picture, a 20-foot-long python is encircling and attempting to strangle a full-grown alligator, while the alligator is doing its best to swallow the python. It is not for the faint of heart.
The snakes also like to eat rodents, deer and other mammals. Small Florida deer have been turning up inside the digestive tracts of Everglades pythons, which has alarmed deer lovers and also the deer.
As for other potential prey, human beings - like rodents, beavers and deer - are mammals, government scientists confirmed.
According to the new USGS map, the python would find about one-third of the United States - including much of California - to be comfortable for its expansion. In California, the only safe places to avoid the migrating pythons would be the colder areas - the Sierra, the Cascades or the North Coast. Such remote areas, however, could not support every panicked Californian seeking to avoid the giant snakes.
The control of nonnative species is an increasing problem for local biologists, who are currently battling the dread zebra mussel and the voracious northern pike. The mussel is threatening to clog Bay Area reservoirs, and pike are gobbling Northern California salmon and trout. Some studies have said the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is the most-invaded ecosystem on the planet, with hundreds of introduced species that endanger native critters.
USGS researchers say pet owners must be responsible about snakes, especially when they no longer want them. There is nothing bad about snakes, the misunderstanding in a certain garden notwithstanding. Snakes are just being snakes. It's up to people to exercise their free will about snakes, which is the oldest lesson in the book.
"Americans are wealthy enough to possess exotic pets and ethical enough to decide the right thing to do when they can no longer keep them," Rodda said.
Releasing them into the wild is a very bad idea.
"Nobody wants to screw up the environment," Rodda said. "But that's what's happening."
Giant Pythons California
Giant Pythons California