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. Dale Castles

    State of Florid needs to allow open hunting season on these snakes for their hides and meat and let mankind do what they have done to other species which is wipe them out.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tax Payer

      Re allowing hunting: Those big snakes would kill and eat some hunters, and open the state up for lawsuits. There's a big difference between hunting deer, cougars, and bobcats, and trying to find, suprise, and kill a python.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ron

    Why is your wife busy?

    January 31, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ron

    Get rid of all the snakes in the white house and congress first

    January 31, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. T

    Wow. As an African-American male I have to say that some measures of ignorance is so profound that you can't help but be amused at the simply absurdity of it. I can so easily imagine the person who made this comment as having one brown toofus in the front of him mouf sittin' on the porch playing a banjo, spittin in a can. Don't get me wrong. I can appreciate the maginitude of how dangerous this type of ignorance can be and would have no problem eliminating it with a round or two if ever necesary.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • moe

      why do african americans feel they have to annouce that they are afro-american? Befor they post something?

      January 31, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      My oh my, T... you sound like SUCH a well educated man! Can I have your phone number?!?

      January 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Obviously

    hormone fed super gaters are the answer.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. beth

    Anybody who watches Snake Wars or Python hunters knows how bad this problem has been for years. These professionals have been hired by the state of Florida to go out and study the problem and report back. This is not new information.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. scriss

    The state of Florida needs to issue a bounty on these snakes, as well as allow year-round hunting. This will only partially help, but it is better than nothing.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kowona Pruitt

    That was so ignorant!

    January 31, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Wu

    Should broaden our diet choice here. There are no carp or snake problem in Asia, because people eat them. Once we start eat carp and snake here, those things will not have a chance to over populate.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tax Payer

      You go first. Whip up some tasty dishes and blog them, develop a following.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. nugun

    Simple...open it up to hunting. Place a bounty. And make certified bounty snake skin a tax free product.

    Case will be solved by enterprising hunters. Population will be brought under control. Do bounty base on feet.

    20 feet = $250

    Watch as the snakes just disappear.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. stephendouglas

    How many pairs of boots can be made from a fifteen foot python? Belts? Purses? You let hunters target them for manufacturers and the problem will be cured in a couple years, and much more efficiently than any government clusterphuk.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Vick

      I agree with you. Why outsource our manufacturing jobs overseas when we have endless supply of python skins? Sure, our labor is more expensive, but python skins are practically free. I can't imagine Coach or Prada passing up this business opportunity and create jobs here. You forget python meat is very tasty. They are healthier than red meat and white meat such as pork/chicken because python meat contain almost no fat. Large pythons make great BBQ ribs too.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dave

    Just more illegal aliens... give em amnesty like all the rest...

    January 31, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. CDaeda

    When these snakes run out of food in the Everglades, then your kids will be next.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dave Moffett

    What on earth are people thinking to have these things as pets? And then to release them. Clearly, the fools who do things like this probably wouldn't even register on the human IQ scale. Those who do things like this are selfish and obviously care nothing about the impact their thoughtless acts have on natures ecosystem.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • clarity007

      Simple answer is to employ a bounty but not possible.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • ionymous

      Or they could be caring individuals who can no longer take care of their pets but want the best for them. They figure releasing them to the wild is a very compassionate act. They didn't understand the bigger picture. Instead of demonizing these individuals, it makes more sense to put your energy into educating them.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick

      The solution to the problem is already presented in the article. If Burmese pythons are threatened in their native range because of human hunt them for meat and skins, you just have to do the same to get rid of them. You're forgetting python skins make great handbags, purses, and shoes. This may help Florida's manufacturing industry as they have unlimited supply of python skin. Python meat is lean and quite tasty. They taste better than rattlesnake meat and are much healthier for you than red and white meat. Florida needs to do this soon or else there won't be anything left but pythons.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kevin O.

    Nuke the Everglades!!! I went there as a child and found it to be boring and full of toothless old people trying to sell garbage. I can't fathom it has gotten any better.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • SC

      It did when you left.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
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