Pythons wiping out mammals in Everglades, researchers say
A Burmese python in the Everglades swallowed a 76-pound deer last year.
January 31st, 2012
09:34 AM ET

Pythons wiping out mammals in Everglades, researchers say

Burmese pythons have eaten so many small mammals in Everglades National Park that populations of rabbits and foxes have disappeared and numbers of raccoons, opossums and bobcats have dropped as much as 99%, according to a report released Tuesday by researchers at Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured, and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marci McNutt in a statement.

The massive nonnative snakes have become an established species in the park in the past 11 years, after snakes that were once pets were released into the wild, according to the researchers. Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said earlier this month that there are tens of thousands of the snakes in the park.

In the remote southernmost regions of the 1.5 million-acre national park, researchers could find no marsh or cottontail rabbits or foxes. In those same areas, the raccoon population has declined 99.3%, the opossum population 98.9%, and the bobcat population 87.5%, the researchers reported.

Those animals are often found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons captured in the Everglades, the researchers said.

“The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in Everglades National Park,” said lead author Michael Dorcas, a biology professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

To measure the population declines, researchers traveled more than 39,000 miles at night along roads in the park between 2003 and 2011, counting both live animals and road kills. Their data were compared to similar counts made along the same roads in 1996 and 1997, before the Burmese pythons had become an established species in the park.

In northern areas of the park, where python populations have not become established, the researchers found similar mammal numbers between their recent and older surveys. But in the area where the pythons have recently become established, the researches reported a noticeable decline in mammal numbers. They called for action before the pythons wipe out mammals in the entire park.

“Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive, and deliberate human action,” McNutt said.

Burmese pythons are native to southeast Asia, their range extending from southern China to the Malay Archipelago, according to the National Zoo. The snakes reach breeding age in four to five years and a female lays an average of 35 eggs during the spring breeding season, though one snake may lay up to 100. Burmese pythons can live as long as 30 years.

In their native range, the snakes are considered threatened and are hunted by humans for their meat and skins, according to the National Zoo.

They may grow up to 22 feet long but average about 16 feet. The snakes can swallow whole animals four or five times the size of their head. In the Everglades, the pythons have been found to eat deer and even alligators.

While the researchers are concerned about the fate of the raccoons and the opossums, they say they may not even be able to measure the snakes' effect on more elusive species.

“Such severe declines in easily seen mammals bode poorly for the many species of conservation concern that are more difficult to sample but that may also be vulnerable to python predation,” Dorcas said in a statement.

The researchers compared the proliferation of pythons in Florida to that of the brown tree snake on the Pacific island of Guam, where native species have disappeared since the introduction of the snakes. But they said it's happening faster in Florida.

“It took 30 years for the brown tree snake to be implicated in the nearly complete disappearance of mammals and birds on Guam; it has apparently taken only 11 years since pythons were recognized as being established in the Everglades for researchers to implicate pythons in the same kind of severe mammal declines,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist Robert Reed said in the report.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instituted a ban on the importation of the Burmese python and three other nonnative constrictor snakes – the yellow anaconda and northern and southern African pythons.

But the researchers say they'll still need to do more.

“This severe decline in mammals is of significant concern to the overall health of the park’s large and complex ecosystem,” Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball said in a statement. “We will continue to enhance our efforts to control and manage the non-native python and to better understand the impacts on the park.”

The latest research was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Filed under: Animals • Florida • Snakes
soundoff (456 Responses)
  1. Neville Flynn

    Enough is enough! I have had it with these m-er f-in snakes in this m-er f-ing swamp!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Not Again!

    These "scientists" and the "media" just kill me. They take a look at a few disappearing animals and suddenly we have to get the government involved. There's no way scientists can prove pythons have anything to do with the "problem." And even if they did, so what? I thought these "specialists" and "professors" all believed in evolution. Well, here's "evolution" at work! Pythons are God's creatures every bit as much as rabbits, bobcats and possums. They were almost wiped out in their native habitat, and now they've been given a second chance and all because our unfettered free enterprise system permits pet shops to sell and consumers to buy these formerly endangered animals and then to release them into a supportive habitat. Sounds like the system is working fine to me as it is.

    If these people would just leave it alone and let nature take its course, the whole thing would work itself out. Just like so called "global warming." Even if there really is such a thing, DEAL WITH IT! What's the big deal about a few polar bears having to swim for their food? As fat as they are, they could use the exercise anyway.

    Bottom line, if I want to drive my Hummer out to the Glades and dump my pythons and cobras while taking a few potshots at cougars with my Glock semiauto, I don't need no socialist park rangers climbing up my rear end about it!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chris

    "This needs decisive human reaction" Really, does it? If the snakes have wiped out nearly 99 percent of the mammal population..and the snakes (while non native) are overbred. The snakes are overpopulated with a dwindling food chain. That means the snakes will begin to starve. Which means there will probably be a massive die off. Which means that we don't need to take 'decisive action', because nature will do it for us. This is how nature balanced itself before humans began to interfere. The snakes are there because of human intereference. If you mean to hunt down every.single.snake and relocate them..that's one thing...but if you do a snake cull..all you are doing is basically creating an ideal environment for the snakes who are left. People are hysterically funny.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cworr

    C'mon people! We're Americans! We decimated the Buffalo. We killed all the cougers East of the Appalachians. We drove wolves to extinction. We nearly wiped out Black Bears. There used to be two million Native Americans up and down the East Coast. Now how hard do you have to look to find one East of the Mississippi? Are we really going to surrender to a bunch of big snakes? Nobody does specicide like we do! We just need to find a way to make money off killing them and the problem will be solved! Bounties payable by headcount ought to work. We just need to get the rednecks from the panhandle down into the Everglades, since Cubans don't have the same level of experience at wiping things out! :)

    January 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • cigarman

      If you vote for any Republican, you are surrendering to the largest snakes there are.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lokari

      Both tragically true and funny at the same time. Nicely done!

      January 31, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Very funny. Sad thing is I bet a bunch of Replublican red necks a reading this and saying 'hell yes, where's my gun' assuming you are serious! LOL.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • rs

      I see a market for snake rings. Just like onion rings but made of cross slices of snake in a nice crispy batter!

      January 31, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      just tell those rednecks that the snakes had something to do with the death of dale earnhardt and that will be the end of them.

      January 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • fran

      start having snake hunting, an do it soon... what are they waiting for, to be politically correct for snake hunting

      January 31, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. noel

    BAN OBAMA!!! obamanos!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. noel

    we all saw obama's latest charade....EVERYTHING is gonna be alright!!! OBAMANOS!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bobmc

    you serious therapy

    January 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bobmc

    to bad we cannot train them to eat lawyers , inside traders, and health service exec's. oh wait a minute the lawyers will slither right up to them unnoticed. Rumor has it they love to eat Newt Supporters. Teach them the full monty and we have a swamp filled with Monty Pythons!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JB

    The federal government couldn't get the Seminole out of the Everglades, let alone snakes.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lokari

    It's sadly ironic that these snakes, which are pests in Florida, are threatened in their native habitat. Obviously the only way to rescue the situation in Florida is extreme efforts to eradicate the snake population. It's a shame that these Floridian snakes cannot be captured and released in their native habitats to restore the populations there.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. baorddog

    In this economy it's simple: Put a bounty per foot or per pound on them. People will hunt them down for dollars...not for the environment.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • PennyNot

      Absolutely, and collect hunting licenses in the process!

      January 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. red1

    Noel is that you? Haha! Hope so! Red1 is your redheaded lost girlfriend.

    January 31, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Brickell Princess

    You can thank the low lives in Miami for this. They are the ones that think that these snakes are fun to own and then when that one credit card that supports their ghetto life style runs out they release these creatures into the wild.

    Thanks a lot Miami!

    January 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. mongopoo

    This is the result of messing with the Nature's laws.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Samuel (Sam) Getaneh Bogale Kathy Stumm-Bogale Calgary Alberta

    It appears that the balance of nature is out of control!

    January 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
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