Recently, a giant Burmese python was caught in Florida. The female snake weighed 164.5 lbs and was more than 17 ½ ft long. Worse than the size, the snake was cultivating 87 eggs in her oviducts.(1)
The find proves that these non-native animals are reproducing in the Florida swamps. It has been known for some time that the Burmese python has been not only surviving in South Florida, but obviously thriving as well.
However, such a specimen has many scientists wondering what this find means for Florida and the rest of the United States.
The Burmese Python has been invading Florida since about 1979. However it was not until about 2000 that scientists realized that these snakes have been thriving in the humid subtropical climate of the Sunshine State.
This really came as no surprise since Florida’s climate is very similar to that of the snakes’ natural habitat: Southeast Asia. (2)
The snakes have made their way to south Florida by way of the exotic animal trade. Many people believe that they are doing the snake a favor when they release the unwanted reptile into the wild. Unfortunately, they are destroying the fragile Florida ecosystem in the process.
A Threat to the American Ecosystem
However, it is not only Florida’s ecosystem that is in danger.
In 2008, Science Daily reported that the Burmese Python could possible spread across one-third of the United States (3). The article contends that the snake could survive as far north as Delaware, and span the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, though focusing predominately in the south.
The spread of the python would wreak havoc on native species that have no natural defenses against the apex predator. Florida is a prime example of this decimation.
According to a report from this past February, 90% of the wild mammal species that once inhabited Everglades National Park have vanished over the last 12 years.(4) If the Burmese Python is not quickly contained, many other U.S. states could possibly be victim of similar declines.
There are several nature groups trying to avoid such national declines by attempting to contain the Burmese Python within the confines of the Everglades.
The Nature Conservancy is one such group that is trying to confine the snake. Their program, Python Patrol, is training regular citizens to become snake spotters and responders. (5) According to the Nature Conservancy, the group began in 2008 when it was discovered that the pythons were eating the endangered Key Largo Woodrats.
The program has been so successful that it has moved to mainland Florida. Cheryl Millett, the biologist who oversees the Python Patrol, stated:
“Python Patrol is a perfect model for alerting people to report the snakes and training people who can respond to the discoveries in order to stop expansion of invasive pythons from the Everglades.”
Dealing With the Threat
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservancy Commission is also attempting to keep the Burmese Python in check.
On their website, the state agency is urging citizens to report any sightings of the python, dead or alive, to the wildlife commission.(6) Furthermore, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservancy Commission issues a number of permits which allow hunters to hunt the snakes on various wildlife management areas during designated times of the year.
Even though they do not require it, the agency urges hunters to report how many snakes they kill to keep better records on the growing population.
Currently, the Burmese Python is confined to the borders of Florida; however, without attempting to control the population, this invasive species could easily spread across the southern U.S.
If something is not done to prevent the spread of the snake, the native species of the American south could very well be endangered.