Professor Murmann's Research Blog: Another Great Example of Serendipity in Scientific Discovery

Another Great Example of Serendipity in Scientific Discovery

People underestimate that scientists often make progress by chance.  Here is the story of researchers studying a species that has invaded Florida’s Everglades made an unanticipated discovery: deadly Florida pythons have internal GPS.

“We found that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses,” said Shannon Pitman of North Carolina’s Davidson College, the lead researcher of a team of scientists that released six captured snakes back into the wild, then tracked them through the Everglades National Park for up to nine months.

“It wasn’t what we expected. We thought we’d see a kind of aimless, wandering behaviour, but the pythons made their way pretty quickly back to where to where they were captured. It was more sophisticated in terms of movement than we’ve seen in other species of snake.”

What makes the discovery more remarkable is that it was completely accidental. Pitman’s team originally wanted to release the snakes closer to their capture points within the Everglades, as they were more interested in studying the habitat through which they were moving than the actual distances they travelled.

But wildlife officials, whose efforts to eradicate or contain the up to 100,000 non-native snakes estimated to have spread through the park’s 1.5m acres, refused permission.

That led to the team releasing the snakes at more remote locations between 13 and 23 miles away, outside the National Park’s boundaries, and then watching in amazement as one python after another made its way back “home”.

Each snake was fitted with a radio tracker and its position monitored by GPS one to three times per week. All six moved in a near-straight line towards their capture points and five ended up within a couple of miles. The snake with the longest journey took nine months to reach its destination.


Full Story: Guardian

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