Myth or Monster?

A photo that’s claimed to be a boa constrictor in Grand Case is causing quite a commotion on Facebook this week. The person who posted it said that a man claimed to have released four of them after Hurricane Irma. If true, this could be the start of a serious problem for the island.

Of course, you can’t believe everything you hear. Every hurricane comes with its own stories. After Luis, we heard that monkeys escaped from the zoo and the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth escaped from the butterfly farm. Neither thing was true as far as we know. Giant African Land Snails allegedly came with electrical cable from Guadeloupe or Africa. Green Iguanas were released at the Juliana Airport after Luis or at some other time within a few years. Some of the stories may be at least partially true, but they can never be verified.

This photo is causing a stir on Facebook.

Introduction of boas on to St. Martin would be a bad thing. Not because snakes are bad, but because introducing anything non-native usually has bad consequences.

On the plus side, many of the things that boas would eat here are not native. Rats, mice, mongoose, raccoons, monkeys and green iguanas were all introduced to this island by people, and all of them could be boa food. The same could be said for cats and dogs, although most people would not want to see them get eaten.

Native birds would also be prey for boas. This would be bad. They are an important and beautiful part of our local nature. At the same time, we don’t have any birds that are only found here, so boas on St. Martin would not put anything at risk of extinction. The animals that are found here and nowhere else are small lizards and insects that are probably not at risk from boas.

What will happen next? We can try to verify that the release actually happened, and we can try to find and capture the snakes in the wild. Unfortunately, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to find them. Perhaps years will pass before we know if they are breeding in the wild or not. These snakes could become a minor myth in the story of Hurricane Irma, or real-life monsters that disrupt our local ecosystem.

No matter what, we need to teach the public why introducing foreign plants and animals is bad. We need to help people see the beauty and value of our native plants and wildlife, and we need to explain how introduced species can hurt them. It is often too late to take action once animals have been released, but it is never to early to prevent a future incident.

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