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Published: Wednesday March 26, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2014 MYT 11:55:27 AM

Burmese python and its built-in compass

An Everglades National Park biologist with a captured Burmese python. Scientists discovered in an experiment that the snakes, when transported far from their home turf, immediately oriented themselves to their destination and set off to find it. — Filepic

An Everglades National Park biologist with a captured Burmese python. Scientists discovered in an experiment that the snakes, when transported far from their home turf, immediately oriented themselves to their destination and set off to find it. — Filepic

The snake is said to be able to "go home" even if released far away.

The Burmese python has a built-in compass that allows it to slither home in a near straight line even if released dozens of kilometres away, researchers said last Wednesday.

Capable of growing over 5m long, pythons are among the world’s largest snakes. Although native to South and South-East Asia, the snakes have taken up residence in South Florida’s Everglades National Park, possibly after being released as unwanted pets.

They have adapted so well to their new habitat that they now pose a serious threat to several species which they hunt as prey.

Scientists captured six of the pythons in the Everglades, placed them in sealed, plastic containers, and drove them to locations between 21km and 36km away.

They implanted radio trackers in the animals and followed their movements with GPS readings from a small fixed-wing plane, measuring their direction and speed.

All the snakes immediately oriented themselves towards the place where they were captured, with five of the six returning to within 5km of that spot.

The sixth veered somewhat off course as it was nearing its destination.

The snakes travelled between 94 and 296 days, displaying “high motivation to reach home locations”, according to the study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“This study provides evidence that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses,” the authors wrote.

No other snake species has yet been shown to possess a similar homing ability.

Such navigational skills suggest the python has a razor-sharp sense of territoriality.

This could help combat the species in places where it is unwanted by predicting where the snake is likely to spread.

Burmese pythons eat everything from tiny birds to deer and even alligators.

They swallow their food whole. – AFP

Tags / Keywords: Science Technology, Science, nature, Burmese python, homing, internal compass

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