While the hunt for the Morgantown python has run cold, it comes into question just how long a 15-foot pet python can survive in the West Virginia wilderness.
“Given the size of it, I’m going to guess it is probably a Burmese python,” said Donald Brown, research assistant professor for the WVU School of Natural Resources. “In terms of survival, we need to think about what is the lowest temperature that snake can survive at.”
He said the chances that the snake has not only survived, but thrived through the warm summer months are relatively high. He said more than likely, the snake has not traveled far from its original drop-off location.
Brown is not alone with his predictions about the snake’s whereabouts. Emily Sanders, owner of the Morgantown Pet Store Exotic Jungle has been heavily involved in the search for the python and agrees the snake would have no reason to travel long distances.
This observation has led Sanders to question whether or not the location where the snake was said to have been released is accurate.
“The officer thought they saw it up in a tree, but there is no way,” Sanders said. “They said it got loose at Dunkin’ Donuts and crossed the highway, so that begs the question, ‘Was it really released there where everyone is saying it was?’ I don’t think any police ever actually saw it.”
Because Burmese pythons are rarely found in trees, Sanders said this has led her to be skeptical of whether or not the snake has actually been spotted. Although it remains elusive, Sanders said she is almost certain the snake is still alive.
“If he is loose and he is still there, he is definitely still alive,” Sanders said.
Brown said the odds of survival rely heavily on the species of snake the python is and that this particular species can survive in temperatures just above freezing.
“Basically, with this snake, if it gets below 40 degrees, it is going to start having some problems,” he said. “Just based on the environmental conditions, I would speculate that it is likely the snake has not died from just being cold.”
With cooler temperatures quickly approaching, Brown said the temperature changes will continue to threaten the snake’s life.
“Snakes are ectothermic, so they require [an] extra heat source to do things like metabolic activities,” he said. “What happens when it gets cold essentially is their bodies start shutting down, and if they get too cold, they won’t be able to move.”
Brown said Burmese pythons need to have a body temperature of about 60 degrees for digestion. Although summertime in West Virginia creates a livable habitat for the python, it is only a matter of time before survival will no longer be possible.
“There is virtually no way that snake is going to make it through the winter,” Brown said.
However, Sanders said there may be hope for the snake even throughout the colder months.
“There are so many abandoned houses, he could get in there and be warm enough and survive,” she said. “Even if he got underneath in somebody’s basement where the furnace is where it is toasty he would be fine.”
Although the hunt for the snake will remain inactive until sightings are reported, Brown said the snake poses little threat to residents in the area.
“If the question is, ‘Do these snakes ever kill people?’ the answer is yes, they have killed people, but it is extremely rare even in areas where these snakes are highly abundant,” Brown said. “I think there is a good chance it is still alive, but there is almost no chance it will survive the winter, and there is a very low chance it will be a problem for people.”
While there is low potential for the snake to threaten residents of Morgantown, Sanders said families should remain weary and keep a watchful eye on children and pets. She added the biggest danger the snake currently poses is to feral cats in the area.
“Even if he is only 5 inches in diameter, pets are definitely in danger, and if he is hungry enough than he could wrap somebody and that strength can break bones,” Sanders said. “
Andrew Stacy, communications manager for the City of Morgantown, said searches ceased within a few weeks of the initial incident.
“There really are no other updates,” he said. “The MPD is no longer actively looking for it. They haven’t been since a couple weeks after the incident happened.”
Although official searches have remained inactive, Sanders said the general public is still encouraged to keep an eye out for the snake. In the case the snake is spotted, Sanders said do not approach it, and to call 911 or herself at 304-296-8552.
“One day he will pop up, especially as it starts getting cold, because he is going to want to find some form of shelter if he doesn’t have it already,” Sanders said.