Burmese python: Not even traffic can put a dent in vigilant invader

April 28, 2015 7:25 pm


A baby Burmese python that was caught during the 2013 Python Challenge. (Via New York Times)

Burmese python studies, like Burmese pythons, spread quickly. The latest tracked 19 pythons gadding through the Everglades using radio tags and GPS. Lesson: “There’s no going back on this one,” a national park spokeswoman said. “So what’s the next [invasive species] and can we prevent another species from affecting this pristine ecosystem?”

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey – the largest and longest tracking effort of its kind – found pythons stick to a home range that is roughly 3 miles wide and 3 miles long. The pythons mostly preferred sloughs and coastal areas, especially ones with tree islands. The hope, researchers said, is to help eco-managers refine their control efforts and protect vulnerable native species.

“These [sloughs and coastal areas] may be optimal locations for control efforts and further studies on the snakes’ potential impacts on native wildlife,” said Kristen Hart, a USGS researcher.

Knowing where to look might seem easy. Some estimates put the invasive Burmese python population in the Everglades at about 100,000 but efforts at control are mostly hapless. A monthlong "Python Challenge” in 2013 nabbed 68 -- considered a success considering the snake's stealth factor. Another hunt is planned in 2016 by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Understanding habitat-use patterns of invasive species can aid resource managers in designing appropriately timed and scaled management strategies to help control their spread,” Hart said.

Not terribly new in the study, going by one or two recent studies, is giant pythons binge on practically anything in sight. They are hard to spot, rely on the ambush, and like to have sex after eating. The able-bodied snakes are also remarkably skilled and careful travelers, according to the study.

None of the GPS-tracked pythons crossed a road. And “67 percent of radio-tracked pythons crossed a road with no record of road-caused mortality,” the study said. “The ability of pythons to utilize roads … further highlights the inconspicuous and cryptic nature of pythons.”

The USGS, National Park Service, University of Florida and Davidson University collaborated in the study. The tracking took place from October 2007 to April 2012.


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