Despite being classified as threatened in its native Southeast Asia, the Burmese python has been successful enough in Florida that its considered an invasive species. A 14-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey aimed to find where, exactly, the pythons were living, with hopes of finding evidence that they could be contained to the Everglades. Unfortunately, their results indicate that the pythons can live happily just about anywhere.
“It has to do with food and sex,” said U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Kristen Hart. Without any natural predators, the snakes themselves have become the top predators in Florida’s Everglades. Pythons are a notoriously hearty species – females have been known to lay as many as 100 eggs at a time, and there have even been instances of them laying viable eggs without the presence of a male.
The scientists hypothesized that nature would help constrain the snakes. Most snakes are incredibly sensitive to saltwater environments, and their research indicated that most of the 19 Burmese pythons they tracked stayed within a nine square mile area in the Everglades. One snake, however, had made his way to Florida’s southern tip, where he lived in a saltwater mangrove swamp for about a year.
“They’re completely capable of living in the Gulf of Mexico mangroves for a year,” Hart told the Tampa Bay Times. “He was just happy as a clam in that saltwater.”
The study revealed that for the most part, though, the snakes live in fairly concentrated common areas shared by multiple pythons. They prefer tree islands where the roots provide a livable area above the roads, and most of them curiously preferred to stay near roads.
“These high-use areas may be optimal locations for control efforts and further studies on the snakes’ potential impacts on native wildlife,” Hart said. “Understanding habitat-use patterns of invasive species can aid resource managers in designing appropriately timed and scaled management strategies to help control their spread.”
So far, control efforts have born little fruit. The snakes are difficult to see, quiet, prolific breeders and have in the everglades an ample food source. Scientists have noted that wherever they find pythons, small- and mid-size mammal populations are decimated. Raccoon, possum and deer nearly disappear, and rabbits disappear completely. When those food sources dry up, scientists note that other predators like bobcats and foxes tend to disappear with them.
The pythons, however, are not believed to be dangerous to humans, as they recognize that our shoulders are typically too wide to fit in their mouths. Nevertheless, they are well-knwon for consuming prey many times their size, which tops out at about 18 feet in the wild. Florida is home to more invasive species than any state in the union.