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. Amanda

    There is an easy fix to the releasing them into the wild problem... Make all snake owners register and have check ins. Sorry but if you own a deadly animal, you should have to be regulated and there should be programs in place to see that you are caring for them properly AND that when they expire, that the corpse is inspected. Not only will this put a stop to releasing them entirely, but it will hold accountable these owners from abusing these animals. If you aren't smart enough to care for them or if you are too poor to afford to do so properly, then you shouldn't have them!

    If these snakes can swallow a 70lb deer, then they can swallow a child too! Not only can they swallow children, but they can constrict the life out of ANY adult human out there. Yet anyone with the money can buy one of these beasts and own it... ridiculous how easily nimrods can own very deadly exotic animals.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • bbk

      i know a couple of 60 lb kids that would be perfect for testing purposes

      January 31, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • notbobslc

      Yeah regulations will work because everyone will abide by the law regarding their snake and Florida has so few problems to deal with that the cops will get right on that report of unlicensed snakes – your a fool living in a dream land

      January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • docj

      Then any animal would be need to be registered. Your beloved golden retriever is a deadly animal. So thats not the answer. How about let the animals take care of themselves. Yes some will die others will learn to survive, pretty sure thats how come they are here today...

      January 31, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • slickterp

      So you're cool with increased taxes ot fund this idea? And exactly what good was inspecting corpses do?

      January 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yourdaddy

      Actually slikterp, make the petstores and breeders pay for it. Why have taxes cover it, have them pay for it.

      February 1, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jt_flyer

    Take our troops out of Afghanistan and have them kill take care of the problem. They're used to killing snakes.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. JR

    Obviously need a hunting season for these things down there. Fish and Wildlife could organize it, train the hunters in the do's and don'ts in the area, and let em rip. Contract with some shoe/belt/purse manufacturer to make that stuff into fashion accessories and call it the greening of the Everglades. Use profits to support the cause. What you don't do is nothing about this.

    A pox on the idiots that released their snakes into the wild to wreck havoc.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. zizo

    Send Seal Team Six in there they will take care of this al qaida pythons

    January 31, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. Amanda

    As far as the current wild python problem... I say take some of those outrageous tourist profits and use that to pay for dead pythons. Pay a bounty on the suckers! Make it worth the while for any crazy wannabe snake hunter to go out in the swamps and hunt them down. Make sure it is enough to cover gas, ammo and food costs. Be surprised how many snakes will be turned in when people can make a good profit on them dead. Right now it isn't worth the "good" reptile hunters time to go after them.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kim

    Animal Planet shows on the Everglades and Burmese Pythons state that when hurricane Andrew went thru a warehouse that had hundreds of the pythons was blown over and the snakes escaped. That is the reason for the over population of the pythons.

    My point if you're going to spends hundreds of thousands of dollars at VT to do a study on Florida wildlife, maybe they should actually have an idea of what they are talking about. Wouldn't UM or local school have a better understanding to do a study like that?

    January 31, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Bounty

      First of all there should not have been a warehouse with hundreds of pythons in a hurricane area. Secondly, I agree you could have all the thugs on the UM football team hunt them down.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  7. tanner

    open up hunting on them. the state offers a $100's a head. i give it 5years and your problem is gone.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  8. las88

    Not that this will solve the current problem, but can we PLEASE ban private ownership of these animals!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dale

    All living things must eat to survive. Once the resources are gone in their present territory they will begin to extend their hunting territory to include cities and human children. They need to be hunted and wiped out, before the first human child can be taken, if that hasn't already happened.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • docj

      Clearly they eat all those everglade children....or not since they can not tolerate the cold they won't migrate north or maybe they be lurking in city playground hunting kids...... Just like the alligators do right.?

      January 31, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. Banned In 49 States

    They now need to import the Honey Badger – that'll fix the problem.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul in Tulsa

      Honey Badger would know what to do....

      January 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jimbo

    This is very sad. It seems as there is no easy fix to this or a fix at all. If you have ever been to the everglades you would know how enormous it is and how hard it would be to maneuver the channels and mangroves in order to hunt this invasive species. The birth rates that these snakes have vs. the time you would have to hunt these animals puts a grim look on things. Putting a poison into the ecosystem that could kill the snakes would most likely cause much other unknown damage as well as planting a natural predetor if there even is one. I see no fix for this, the everglades are changed forever and it is a sad thing.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeM

      Put a price on their head and see how quickly they become extinct.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul in Tulsa

      Lets hope the snakes don't pool their monies and form a Super PAC. It has worked effectively for other cold-blooded creatures lately... Sorry could not help myself...

      January 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rodger

    bring in hunters of them from southeast asia, they seem to know how to kill and nearly wipe them out. Let them have at it. all someone needs to do is make something good with them to eat and then people would be happy to hunt them...maybe pulled python bbq

    January 31, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Stevelb1

      Seems the rednecks should be able to hunt them. They all keep guns.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. DK

    OK, so why don't they find them and kill them. We could use a few more snake skin shoes, purses, etc. They're not endangered so why not?

    January 31, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • bmsadler01

      I think cause the everglades are so large, the snakes are good at hiding.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. Animalmoron

    OMG burmese has no children these snakes have eaten all them!!!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Logic

    No need for a bounty. Open season hunting, year-round. Cash in on hunters. Line up vendors to turn the snakes into clothing and food. PETA can take a long walk off a short pier.

    Take care to regulate it though to preserve the preserve.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
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