It is a conservationist’s nightmare: Burmese pythons on the move in Florida. The Asian snakes face only moderate risk of predation and are estimated to have annihilated 90 percent of the mammals in some parts of the Everglades. Reports say the deadly snakes are now expanding their range.
The ugly story began decades ago. As a southern state, Florida is naturally home to many varieties of snakes, 46 if you are counting. Nearby Mississppi has 36. Texas leads the nation with 68. Alaska, not surprisingly, has zero. Maine has 9.
Beyond the favorable climate, many Floridians kept exotic snakes as pets. The numbers apparently were within tolerable limits. Then a hurricane wiped out a breeding facility for pet Burmese pythons, releasing hundreds, if not thousands.
No one knows how many snakes live in Florida today. Higher range estimates are over 300,00. And they seem to be on the move.
The Hill recently quoted experts:
“We have finally, unhappily, sighted a Burmese python in the interior of the refuge,” University of Florida wildlife professor Frank Mazzotti, who heads Fort Lauderdale’s Croc Docs research team, told The Palm Beach Post.
Biologists and wildlife researchers previously believed that the invasive species was in the area after detecting its DNA in freshwater in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. However, contractors with the South Florida Water Management District have sighted the snakes in the refuge in late October.
“We know they are in the refuge but haven’t been seeing them and once you start seeing them that is an indication that the population is expanding,” Mike Kirkland, an invasive animal biologist, told The Palm Beach Post. “The fact that we’ve had a few sightings recently leads me to believe there are more there.” (links in original)
On the map above Ft. Lauderdale is about even with the northward expansion of pythons in 2009. The refuge is in Palm Beach County. That county is about 67 miles from Fort Lauderdale, implying the snakes have moved north dozens of miles in 15 years.
There may be some hope. Newsweek quoted experts who are doubtful the snake can expand out of southern Florida. The climate there is favorable. Pythons cannot survive cold weather. It is therefore unlikely they can survive in the rest of the state or other states.
Then there are control efforts. Federal, state, academic and local agencies are all working to control the snakes. The problem is huge. Experts say finding and eliminating females is key. That is being done by releasing males with tracking collars. Each snake leads trackers to multiple females. Each female eliminated removes multiple clutches of 50 to 200 eggs from the equation. Hunting and eating pythons is also encouraged. Bounties are also in place and an annual challenge occurs..