Why are they in Florida?
Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center identifies an invasive species as a plant, animal or microbe that is alien to an ecosystem and whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Originally from Southeast Asia, these pythons were introduced to South Florida by people who bought them as pets, and then let them go when they became too big to feed, house and handle. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew also played a role in the python population growth when it demolished a python breeding facility and sent thousands of pythons into the Everglades.
There are an estimated 100k-300k pythons in south Florida. People wonder if the pythons will ever be completely eradicated. The answer is no. We can make a difference though. The amount of food that it takes for a python to grow to 10 feet is approximately 200 mammals, birds and reptiles. Multiply that by the number of pythons in south Florida and it’s pretty obvious why they need to be removed. Each python we take out of the glades saves the lives of so many native animals. It’s a slow process, but if we are persistent, we may see the mammal population bounce back and keep the python population to a minimum.
Why do we need to get rid of them?
Being the apex predators in the Everglades, the pythons are at the top of the food chain with voracious appetites and no predators. In certain areas of South Florida, 98% of the mammals are gone because of the pythons. These giant snakes prey on squirrels, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, alligators, wading birds, bobcats, and even deer. They also eat many protected or endangered animals such as the Key Largo woodrat, wood stork, mangrove fox squirrel, and others. One 16 foot python ate a doe and two fawns, one after another, in the same feeding!
The threat the invasive pythons pose to the Florida ecosystem is very real, but still unknown. The effects of the presence of an apex predator can be wide ranging and unpredictable. An apex predator can influence the behavior of prey and literally change the habitat and landscape. At this time, we have no idea if or how pythons are influencing the behavior of alligators, birds, or any other native species. We may not be able to see the effects for decades.
How big do they get?
Burmese pythons can potentially reach 20 feet in length. The record for Florida is 18’9. They can weigh up to 250 lbs. The average python caught is 8-10 feet long, weighing 15-45 lbs.
Will they eat people or pets?
Pythons will absolutely eat pets if given the opportunity. There have quite a few documented cases of dogs and cats being eaten in their own backyard. They are usually from properties on the outskirts of town or in rural areas.
Fortunately, people are not on the menu for the pythons. Humans aren’t viewed as a prey item. There have been no documented cases of wild pythons eating or attempting to eat adults or children in Florida. They will bite if they are being caught or harassed, but it is a defensive strike so it’s very quick. They don’t bite and hold on. They just want to get away.
Are pythons venomous?
No, pythons are not venomous. They are constrictors, which means they suffocate their prey by wrapping wrap around them. When the prey is dead, the python will eat the animal or bird whole, starting from the head.
Do pythons have teeth?
Pythons have a mouthful of very long and razor sharp teeth. Even though they aren’t venomous, the bites can be painful and draw a lot of blood.
How many pythons are out there?
It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 300,000 pythons in south Florida. Because most of the habitat is essentially inaccessible to humans, there is no real way of knowing the actual number. A female python lays an average of 20-40 eggs per year. Some of the bigger pythons that are 15+feet can easily lay over 100 eggs per year.
Why are they so hard to find?
It is nearly impossible to see pythons in their habitat for a few reasons. They are so incredibly camouflage that even a 17 foot python blends right in. They lay under the thick brush or in other animals’ burrows. It is nearly impossible for a person who is just walking through the swamp or the woods to come across a python.
Most of the pythons are caught in the summer at night when they are on the move. They cross roads and levees and the python hunters can catch them.
What is their Territory?
Pythons have been found as far north as the lower part of Lake Okeechobee, as far east as Biscayne Bay, as far west as the western edge of Naples and as far south as the southern tip of Florida.
Can they be eradicated?
Unfortunately, no. Their territory is roughly 3.5 million acres, most of which is inaccessible to humans. Scientists are constantly studying and testing new methods that will make eradication faster and easier. As of now, the state contracted python hunters are the most effective way to slowly remove the pythons from the Everglades, one at a time. The amount of food that it takes for a python to grow to 10 feet is approximately 200 mammals, birds and reptiles. That doesn’t even account for all of the prey that a python consumes as it grows larger than 10 feet. Every python removed saves the lives of so many of the native species, so each python removed makes a difference.
An alternative to euthanizing them?
The ideal solution would be to capture these pythons and rather than killing them, relocating them to their native home in Southeast Asia, but that would be impossible. The Florida python population could harbor dangerous parasites and viruses that could endanger the Southeast Asian population. It would also disrupt the balance of nature in Asia if more predators are introduced.