Physiological effects of capture and short-term captivity in an invasive snake species, the Burmese python (Python bivittatus) in Florida

Elsevier, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology -Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology, Volume 267, May 2022
Claunch N.M., Bartoszek I.A., Tillis S., Stacy N.I., Ossiboff R.J., Oakey S. et al.

It is important to evaluate the role of captivity as a potential stressor. An understanding of stress responses to capture and transition to captivity may inform the limitations of laboratory studies on wild animals, aid in understanding the consequences of introducing animals into captive environments, and help predict which species may be successful invasives. We investigated physiological effects of captivity by comparing at-capture blood variables in wild Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) in Florida to pythons recently brought into captivity (1–109 days). We conducted an acute restraint test by collecting samples at baseline (immediately at handling) and one hour post-restraint across wild field-sampled (n = 19) and recently-captive (n = 33) pythons to evaluate fluctuations in plasma corticosterone, bacterial killing ability, antibody response, leukogram, and serpentovirus infection. We observed higher baseline plasma corticosterone and monocytes in recently captive compared to wild snakes, which both subsided in snakes held for a longer time in captivity, and a mild decrease in lymphocytes in the middle of the captivity period. Functional immunity and viral infection were not affected by captivity, and pythons maintained restraint-induced responses in corticosterone, heterophil to lymphocyte ratio, and monocyte counts throughout captivity. Prevalence for serpentovirus was 50%, though infection status was related to sampling date rather than captivity, indicating that viral infection may be seasonal. The history of Burmese python as a common captive animal for research and pet trade, as well as its general resilience to effects of capture and short-term captivity, may contribute to its invasion success in Florida.