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. charles

    why don't they put a bounty on the pythons.......people could get X amount of dollars for each python they bring in to the DNR. They did things like this back in the day on wolves and such and practically wiped them out (I don't agree with what they did to wolves, they ARE a native species) but pythons are not native and are killing the native species off so I don't see a problem with a bounty on them.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Durundal

      I wonder if their skin is good for anything – like a rattlesnake

      January 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • PushingBack

      If the GOP wins the election, they'll talk the snakes into abstinence.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CMS

    Make them taste really good and bring back the snake skin women accessories and the problem would be solved. Americans will devastate any animal population that taste good.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ABLAZE

      GREAT idea!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Woof

      Ain't that the truth! How many species have been wiped out or nearly wiped out in this country for sport, profit or just plain spite.

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

    wow...somehow people manged to throw political barbs in here. People, try and read a story for what it is and leave your politics out of it. All the sane people would appreciate it. Thanks!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ABLAZE

    Sounds like the next new History Channel Show to me.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Alan

    They should have declared open season on these monsters years ago. Why do bureaucrats always wait until small problems become big problems before they react?

    January 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. brady davis

    They need to send Chuck Norris down there.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jim

    If the day ever comes "god forbid" that a child is harmed in his, or her own backyard, and it comes out that Floridas governor did relatively nothing to curb this problem, then the blame for any human injury can be laid squarly at his feet!

    but then again......this is "short attention span theater" after all.
    If it happens it will come as a shock and suprise to all.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • nepawoods

      Why would a governor be to blame for a problem he didn't cause and nobody can solve?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      to nepawoods:

      How can you say no one is to blame or can do anything about it?
      That's just silly.
      11 yrs ago this problem became clearly evident and the powers that be continued to allow these creatures to imported and kept as pets. Also they could have been offering a bounty on these things for years now, which would have most likely wiped them out.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      I didn't say "no one is to blame". The people who released them are to blame. A bounty can't work. You'll never find all the little ones, and there are far more of them than there were of the few released pets that started this problem.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      to Nepa:

      Still.....he'd better have exhausted all avenues of possible solution, if he wants to feel absolved of any responsibility for a tragedy such as we're speaking of.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      All avenues, or just ones with at least a slight chance of success? If the latter, are there any?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. fleecing

    You can't put a bounty on them because there are so few of them they're nearly impossible to hunt. It's a joke. Driving around with a flashlight can't be the most productive way to take an animal census. More bad science.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      lemme guess....Avid Limbaugh listener?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kampercam

    plz put these on a Plane where they belong.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. canuck

    pythons make lovely purses!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. nepawoods

    Wise man say, man who needs big snake as pet must be compensating.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. dougied

    Python Boots for all!

    January 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chuck Norris

    Those aren't pythons. Check out these pythons. (flexes biceps causing snakes to die of fear)

    January 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • RAGE Against the Machine

      You call those pythons?!

      ***Drops pants***

      A real man only needs use of one python. BAM!!!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linann

      Yes they are.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bezerkur

    how bout y'awl git thim alleygater folk tat be killin awl thim gaters on tat progrim an sen thim'awl ta florada ta kill awl thim gaters. i biet thim bea goode eatin cridders.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • LC B

      Say what?

      January 31, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grumpster

      Duh...I just said that a couple posts down, except my post was something you could actually understand.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. realitybites

    Seriously, if humans have been responsible for hunting animals to extinction. I dont see how it could a problem erraticating these things from the everglades. Just gotta let the Chinese know we've got a new market for them to replace the turtles we've been illegally fishing out of our waterways for their medicine.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grumpster

      Just start a rumor about python being some sort of aphrodesiac and they'll be all gone in short order.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
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