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. Grim Reaper

    Put a bounty on the. Put a camera on the hillbillies that hunt them, put Gordon Ramsey behind the stove to make something out of them, and Kenneth Cole to make shoes out of them. Let reality TV do something good-then again, how do we know that they're not Kardashians.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Stanton

    IIt is spelled "babies," not "babys." It is obvious that you are not educated, which explains your ignorant post.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Rusty

      and It is spelled It, not Ilt. LOL

      January 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • JB

      Yeah buddy, it takes a real smart cookie to call some one ignorant on a post about snakes.

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

    Propoganda! – Be scared everyone we need to ban these snakes cause they could infest the US!

    What a joke they can only survive there, they are already established there, which is stated in this article but they still felt the need to ban them...why? One more freedom stripped from the people. Before long you will have no freedoms.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Stanton

      That is just plain silly!

      January 31, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • TX Mike

      Freedom to release your pet in the wild because you are too lazy or selfish to take care of it? That's not a freedom. That's being irresponsible and dumping your problems on someone else.

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

      What freedom is being revoked, the freedom to own dangerous pets? I watch these morons capture pythons and non-native lizards and then tell you how valuable they are but on the show there are a lot that get away. That wouldn't happen is you used a 12 ga. shotgun to capture them.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Your obviously an idiot and not a Floridian. I live 5 minutes away from the glades, and let me tell you, this article is not propaganda. I use to see these small mammals all the time when I was a kid, now I'm 23 and I saw a possum for the first time in years a few weeks ago. Having a snake for a pet is honestly idiotic and the only people who do own them are people who need help getting their johnson up in the morning by living in a fantasy world of "taming the beast." Tell me this, would you leave a Python in the same room with your baby? What about a dog or cat? A goldfish? Yep, not exactly pet material, my point exactly. So please, do research and get educated before you make idiotic comments like the one you made. I'd suggest getting a GED and maybe then enrolling in a community college.

      January 31, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • slickterp

      The ban is on the IMPORT of these snakes, not the owning of them, or the selling of them, or the breeding of them. there are so many breeders already in the US, there is no point to importing them anyway.

      January 31, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yourdaddy

      All you anti snake people are dog and cat lovers. I own snakes and never let them go, and it was a hurricane in the 90's that destroyed a facility breeding them and they escaped, that is what started the problem. Any animal can be dangerous, so you stupid F($#@ that complain about them eating kids are a person who cares. We are in desperate need of population control anyways, life happens. If your dumb enough to let your kids go into an area where they are known to be at its your fault. Also having people pay for permits is a great idea. There are so many markets for this problem.

      February 1, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Kellyann

      @YourDaddy-what happens if a storm destroys your home? oh yea, your snakes will be out in the wild. I guess any kid in the way then-in your eyes-it would be just poppulation control, right? Part of the reason that the problem in the Glades exists is because of that snake facility being destroyed however, the other part, is because morons released their "pets' into the wild. I can see by your remarks-espcially about children-why your buds with snakes-they are probably the only living creatures that can put up with you., poor snakes.
      The snakes, unfortunately, need to be hunted. There are only so many places that can safely keep these creatures properly, and there are far too many in the Glades that can be relocated to such a facility.
      Oh! and for those interested: In an upcoming episode of "Fatal Attractions," Yourdaddy's remains were found in one of his snakes. The snake unfortunately, died of food poisoning.

      February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. trixie

    Seems to me, if they are being hunted to extinction in their native habitat, why not let the hunters have a crack at them over here? Win-Win!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jeepers

    Well done, backwater "exotic pet" purchasing imbeciles. Golly shucks, that thing got big fast! Guess it's time to release it into the wild.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • KB

      LOL @ Jeepers. Sadly, though, the same thing happens to pet alligators, crocodiles and piranahs. Can't afford to feed them anymore, so instead of doing the RIGHT thing and turning them over to a zoo, they get released into the wild. Stupid, stupid people who have to have these exotic pets!!

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

    Florida should put a bounty (say about $10/ft) on any type of python taken in the Everglades and ban ownership of any of these snakes or put chips in them to follow them if they escape or are released.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Stanton

      Rather than put a bounty on them (the Government would have to come up with the $$) sell hunting licenses and start a new industry....python skins for shoes, hand bags, wallets, etc. , and export all these new products to Asia where there appears to be a demand for them.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon Kennedy

      This is a great idea provided that it is controlled and doesn't go hog wild. It would be kind of like the TLC show where they hunt gators or crocs. Those dudes are crazy, but for a limited season make pretty good money. Hell, they could make another TV show about it.

      The thing to remember is that these are smart animals. They will eventually see us as a threat if they don't already. Were I a potential hunter I would be more worried about the snakes than I would be about the gators. Snakes can climb stuff by coiling around it, can bend their body and climb right into your boat, and provided they aren't super heavy they can take the hunt vertical and be in the trees.

      I think that this is ultimately the answer as well as a source of revenue for the state. Create some rules and sell some licenses.

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

      PETA would just throw red paint on them. My theory is that the lack of meat makes PETA people angry and hostile.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • TX Mike

      There should be a bounty put on the idiots releasing them into the wild.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • KB

      An open hunting season seems appropriate and necessary in this grave situation. It's pretty pathetic that the native alligators can't survive in their natural habitat because of some folks' warped desire to have one of these dangerous reptiles as pets. Instead of "Beware of Alligators" in the Everglades, it's now "Beware of Pythons."

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

      Tx Mike learn the facts, not the facts from CNN. The initial cause was a hurricane in the 90's that destroyed an facility. Its also cheap to feed a burmese python compared to feeding a dog. It all depends what you feed it. North Carolina is moving towards a better direction on regulations when keeping an non-native snake. What needs to be done is to develop a database with the people who purchase/breed/sale the snakes and be in that database. If the snake is sold the database needs to be updated with that data so they are to know where the animal is. Not all snake owners are irrasponsible. Have huge fines for people that are caught with the snakes that aren't in the system. As stated above from the statement above about the initial cause, that was over 10 years ago. There is going to be alot of problems do to the climated down there and the food sources. It takes a female up to 4 years to become breeding size.

      February 1, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. Alex

    Let us make python skin purses, bags, belts and shoes. Also their meat is good for consumption . If not acceptable for human consumption, their meat make excellent pet foods. Manufacturers please take note.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jorge

    Just kill em. lol

    January 31, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. Adam

    Why is it that we think we need to get involved? Let Darwinism do its thing. Eventually, the Pythons will overpopulate and run out of a food supply. They'll begin to die off one after another until their population is put into a healthy number, and the mammals will start to make a comeback.

    Are we really ignorant enough to believe that we can keep everything in this world exactly the same as we remember it for all of time? Give me a break.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis Hunter

      No, that's not what would happen. They would just expand their range into Palm Beach and Miami and live off your grandmother's kittens and poodles. They pulled a 14 footer out from a nice subdivision last week. Living on all the miniature poodles and Persians.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jimbo

      Darwin came up with the term "natural selection". There is nothing natural about this. There haven't been snakes this like this in this area for a million years and the animals that inhabit the area have not evolved and developed the traits needed to avoid these predators. Your comment is like saying if a nuclear fallout occurs we should just let it be, we will adapt, no problem.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Tha Chikin

      That will NEVER work. By the time the numbers of the snakes decline, there will be nothing left out there BUT the snakes. They should not be there... it was ignorant people that put them there... now we have to clean up the mess. If we don't, the Everglades will be just an endless sea of grass with no natural animals left. I live down here... I actually like to see foxes, deer, bobcats, panthers, great blue heron, yes even alligators.

      Another thing is: these snakes are making their way into play grounds and back yards. We can't have them eating kids man. If a 10+ foot snake can chow down on a 76 pound deer, what do you think it can do to a 5 year old??

      January 31, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Bounty

      Are you ignorant enough to realize that the population of native species will be wiped out? Oh, but that's ok as long as Darwinism will take care of it.

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

      Ignorant comment... This is NOT evolution in action. This is the introduction of an exotic species which could completely upset the ecological balance of the everglades with devastating consequences.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • slickterp

      Research the Cane Toad in Australia, and other introduced species. It doesn't just equalize. It takes THOUSANDS of years for an ecosystem to equalize as you suggest.

      January 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Here's an idea

    Why don't we release a Gucci or a Luis Vitton into the Glade? That will even out the number in no time.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. BOMBO ©

    Wow. When I clicked on this story I expected the usual political comments, ie people linking the primary to the snakes (I hope they eat Newt, blah balh blah) but not one political comment so far. Good job, everyone.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Tickers

    I thought red necks ate these things! Put a bounty on them and set the boyz lose on em!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. Aaron SMith

    Bush's fault. If you don't agree your a racist.

    January 31, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tha Chikin


    Probblem solved!!

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

    wow...wonder how many boots, belts and lamp shades that sucker is....i want one..grow and make all kinds a useful stuff for the people!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 31, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawk in Texas

      The best thing to do is feed them all the republicans and solve two problems at once. that rids the country of the party of no, and all that hot air and racial venom will kill the snakes.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
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