Invasive Burmese pythons, which were first found in the Everglades, have already reached West Palm Beach and Fort Myers, and are now headed toward Central Florida.
At the 10th Annual Python Challenge, which took place in the Everglades in August, 1,050 participants from 35 states and Belgium removed 209 Burmese pythons from South Florida. The 10-day competition was created by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and partners to try to increase awareness about the invasive species and the threats the snakes pose to Florida’s ecology, as well as to try to eradicate Burmese pythons before they do more damage to Florida’s ecosystem.
That number was less than previous years, which may mean that the pythons are moving north looking for more food. The invasive species, which established itself as a population in the Everglades after pet pythons were released or escaped into the wild, has already decimated native species in the Everglades, including wading birds, marsh rabbits, and white-tailed deer. They have altered the food web and ecosystems across the Greater Everglades.
According to a comprehensive review of python science published in February of this year by the U.S. Geological Survey, pythons have been migrating throughout the state ever since an established breeding population was first documented in 2000.
They have now been found as far north as Lake Okeechobee. Isolated individuals may be found even further north, but it’s difficult to determine if they’re part of an established population of wild pythons or escaped or released captive animals.
The review calls Burmese pythons “one of the most intractable invasive-species management issues across the globe.”
Since 2000, more than 19,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from the state of Florida and reported to FWC, however not much is known about how they live in the wild, how much the population has grown, or how they travel.
Experts theorize that the pythons travel through South Florida’s extensive network of canals and levees, according to the review. “One python transited continuously for 58.5 hours and traveled 2.43 kilometers in a single day,” the review said of a snake followed with radio tracking.
“We don’t really have a reliable estimate of how many are out there,” Melissa Miller of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida told The New York Times. “They’re kind of a cautionary tale to not to release pets, to make sure you report invasive species immediately.”
To report invasive species, call the Florida hotline: 888-IVE-GOT1.