Review of Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem
by Kate Messner
Intermediate, Middle School    Millbrook    64 pp.
3/20    978-1-5415-5706-2    $31.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5415-8379-5    $31.99

This thoroughly engrossing field guide takes readers into the “scrublands and swamps” of South Florida, where scientists are battling the explosive population growth of Burmese pythons, an invasive species from Southeast Asia. Messner writes vividly about the ecosystem of South Florida (“a place that insists on being wild”) and the serious effects that these non-native reptile “eating machines” have on indigenous animals. And she covers a lot of ground here, discussing everything from the python’s life cycle to the history of its invasion of Florida to the conclusions gleaned from a python necropsy. But the real highlight is an in-depth look at the radio telemetry project conducted by researchers at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, by which the scientists find an “unlikely ally” in a group of captured pythons tagged with radio transmitters. Messner shares profiles of the scientists and — notably — of many of the tagged snakes (Argo, Elvis, Stella, and others), a nod to the affection and respect the researchers have for these reptiles: “It’s not so much now the Burmese python. This is now our Everglades python. It’s our creature.” Visuals — maps, diagrams, photographs, and QR codes for online videos — abound, and the back matter is extensive, with an author’s note, an “Invasive Species Most Wanted List,” a Burmese python invasion timeline, a glossary, a bibliography, further reading suggestions, and an index.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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