TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - There's an invasion happening right now in Florida. The invaders are tiny parasites from Southeast Asia, brought here in Burmese pythons.
Stetson University biology professor Terence Farrell says it is yet another reason why the python introduction is causing harm to Florida's ecosystem.
"The parasite at this point, even if we got rid of pythons, would still be here," he says.
Their victims are Florida’s native snakes, especially pygmy rattlesnakes.
"When we find snakes with heavy parasite infestations, they are often dead," says Farrell.
That's a real problem considering snakes are important for Florida's ecosystem. They are a sustainable food source for a number of Florida species like alligators, birds of prey, and bobcats.
Though snakes strike fear in many humans, they're defenseless against these tiny parasitic worms. "It's a bizarre parasite in that many of our snakes have never dealt with something like this before. A parasite that lives in the lungs and sucks blood," says Farrell.
One thing is certain: The parasite is now a permanent Florida resident.
"At this point, we really don't know how far it will spread and how much damage it will do," Farrell said.