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How Burmese Pythons Took Over the Florida Everglades

February 20, 2020 in History

By Adam Janos

They’ve eaten practically every mammal in sight—and have no natural predators.

Starting in the 1980s, the swamps of the South Florida Everglades have been overrun by one of the most damaging invasive species the region has ever seen: the Burmese python. These massive snakes, which can grow to 20 feet long or more, with telephone-pole-sized girths, have all but decimated the region’s small- and medium-sized mammal population, wreaking havoc with the area’s ecosystem.

That ecosystem, the Florida Everglades, is the largest national park east of California, commanding some 1.5 million acres—or about one-and-a-half times the size of Rhode Island. Save for a few bisecting roadways (US 41 and I-75), these desolate subtropical swamps are detached from the grid of American civilization. It’s hard to fathom that downtown Miami sits just 30 miles away from the vast wetlands that have become an adopted home for (at least) tens of thousands of huge snakes.

Because female pythons can lay 50-100 eggs per year—and the creatures have no natural predator in the region—their threat continues to escalate.

How the Burmese python took over Florida

A young Burmese Python in Homestead, Florida.

Native to Southeast Asia, pythons were first brought to the United States as exotic pets. When the exotic pet trade boomed in the 1980s, Miami became host to thousands of such snakes.

Because pythons can grow to such unmanageable sizes, it was inevitable that some irresponsible owners would release the snakes into the wild. But most experts believe the pythons established a reproducing population in the Everglades sometime after Hurricane Andrew—a category 5 storm that devastated the state in August 1992. It was during that storm that a python breeding facility was destroyed, releasing countless snakes into the nearby swamps.

Today, authorities have no idea how many pythons occupy the area, in large part because they Everglades—in their vast inaccessibility—are so hard to conduct surveys in. And the mottled brown snakes blend well into the scrubby environment.

“It could be tens of thousands, or it could be hundreds of thousands,” says Rory Feeney, the bureau chief of land resources at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)—a federal agency that helps spearhead Everglades conservation efforts. The agency, Feeney adds, has been actively “dealing with invasive pythons for over a decade.”

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5 Things You May Not Know About Leap Day

February 20, 2020 in History

By Stephen Wood

The extra day tacked on to every fourth year is a subtle admission that even something as regular and simple as a calendar can be more complicated than we think.

Nearly every four years, we add an extra day to the calendar in the form of February 29, also known as Leap Day. Put simply, these additional 24 hours are built into the calendar to ensure that it stays in line with the Earth’s movement around the Sun. While the modern calendar contains 365 days, the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit its star is slightly longer—roughly 365.2421 days. The difference might seem negligible, but over decades and centuries that missing quarter of a day per year can add up. To ensure consistency with the true astronomical year, it is necessary to periodically add in an extra day to make up the lost time and get the calendar back in synch with the heavens.

1. Many ancient calendars had entire leap months

Many calendars, including the Hebrew, Chinese and Buddhist calendars, are lunisolar, meaning their dates indicate the position of the Moon as well as the position of Earth relative to the sun. Since there is a natural gap of roughly 11 days between a year as measured by lunar cycles and one measured by the Earth’s orbit, such calendars periodically require the addition of extra months, known as intercalary or interstitial months, to keep them on track.

Intercalary months, however, were not necessarily regular. Historians are still unclear as to how the early Romans kept track of their years, mostly because the Romans themselves may not have been entirely sure. It appears that the early Roman calendar consisted of ten months plus an ill-defined winter period, the varying length of which caused the calendar to become unpegged from the solar year. Eventually, this uncertain stretch of time was replaced by the new months of January and February, but the situation remained complicated. They employed a 23-day intercalary month known as Mercedonius to account for the difference between their year and the solar year, inserting it not between months but within the month of February for reasons that may have been related to lunar cycles.

To make matters even more confusing, the decision of when to hold Mercedonius often fell to the consuls, who used their ability to shorten or extend the year to their own political ends. As …read more


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How the Black Power Movement Influenced the Civil Rights Movement

February 20, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

With a focus on racial pride and self-determination, the Black Power movement argued that civil rights reforms did not go far enough to end discrimination against African Americans.

By 1966, the , the events in Mississippi “catapulted Stokely into the political space last occupied by Malcolm X,” as he went on TV news shows, was profiled in Ebony and written up in the New York Times under the headline “Black Power Prophet.”

Carmichael’s growing prominence put him at odds with King, who acknowledged the frustration among many African Americans with the slow pace of change, but didn’t see violence and separatism as a viable path forward. With the country mired in the Vietnam War, a war both Carmichael and King spoke out against) and the civil rights movement King had championed losing momentum, the message of the Black Power movement caught on with an increasing number of black Americans.

Black Power Movement Growth—and Backlash

Stokely Carmichael speaking at a civil rights gathering in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 1970.

King and Carmichael renewed their alliance in early 1968, as King was planning his Poor People’s Campaign, which aimed to bring thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C., to call for an end to poverty. But in April 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis while in town to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers as part of that campaign.

In the aftermath of King’s murder, a mass outpouring of grief and anger led to riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. Later that year, one of the most visible Black Power demonstrations took place at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where black athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black-gloved fists in the air on the medal podium.

By 1970, Carmichael (who later changed his name to Kwame Ture) had moved to Africa, and SNCC had been supplanted at the forefront of the Black Power movement by more militant groups, such as the Black Panther Party, the US Organization, the Republic of New Africa and others, who saw themselves as the heirs to Malcolm X’s revolutionary philosophy. Black Panther chapters began operating in a number of cities nationwide, where they advocated a 10-point program of socialist revolution (backed but armed self-defense). The group’s more practical efforts focused on building up the black community through social programs (including free breakfasts for school children).

Many in …read more