by Nora Nix; Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, CO)

The Florida Everglades houses one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world. It is home to the endangered Florida panther and American alligator. Yet, one animal threatens the continued existence of the ecosystem—the Burmese Python.

That’s a long snake and it is not wanted in Florida. Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The Burmese Python is an invasive species to the Florida Everglades. Mary Plumb from the Everglades’ National Park Service, in an email interview, says that the Burmese Python is actually “native to Southeast Asia, as well as lowland eastern India and parts of southern China.”

The snake gained popularity through the pet trade. Since the snake can grow up to 25 feet long, it is often released into the wild by the owners, according to the Oregon Zoo website.

Currently, it is unknown of how many Burmese Pythons are in the wild. With rapid reproduction rates there is no clear estimate of the number pythons in the Everglades, according to the National Park Service.

The problem is “Pythons consume a wide variety of native prey species, including mammals, birds and alligators, and therefore pose a risk to the native resources of the Everglades, including already threatened and endangered species,” says Plumb.

While the snakes thriving in the Everglades, with temperatures much like that of its natural habitats, it also is ruining the habitat of other species. Without a solution to the problem many species may go extinct in the future.

There are several reasons why the Burmese Python has become such a large issue in the Everglades. According to the Oregon Zoo, each python “lays between 1 to 2 dozen eggs each clutch.” At this rate, the python population in the Everglades is growing rapidly at an exponential rate. On top of that, the baby pythons leave the nest very quickly after they hatch, and after four years reach a mature age and reproduce.

The National Parks Service in Florida has combined efforts with the people of Florida to stop the pythons from becoming a bigger problem. In order to take pythons out of the population, “Everglades National Park has developed a program making use of about 30 volunteers as Authorized Agents to search for and remove pythons from the park,” says Plumb. By doing this people are able to prevent more pythons from reproducing and try to keep the python population from growing even more.

However, this method is somewhat impractical because the color of the Burmese Pythons matches that of the ground in the Everglades, write Michael Dorcas, biology professor at Davidson University, and John Wilson, postdoctoral student at Virginia Polytechnic and State University.  

The question remains: how does one eradicate all the pythons in the everglades? The simple answer? You can’t. According a 2011 study done by Dorcas and Wilson, Scientists have yet to find that any specific method has had or will have a significant impact on the huge population.”

Nevertheless, many programs are being developed to capture the pythons. Many snakes are caught during the night while they lay on the road to stay warm. Although it is somewhat rare to see the Pythons on the street, they are easy to spot making it an effective method to capture the snake. Additionally, another way to dwindle the pythons is to release a predator into the habitat such as a virus.

However, this has some native effects as “it is time consuming, expensive, and potentially harmful to non-target species,” write Dorcas and Wilson. For example, dogs are used to track the pythons and traps are used to capture them; however, these techniques are impractical due to cost and harm to noninvasive species . There may be no way to stop the python population from growing, the conclude.

Perhaps the best way to prevent the population of pythons from growing in the Everglades is to stop it at the source. By educating people about the harmful effects of pythons it is possible to stop more pythons.

Cassandra Sprong, a student with a 4.5 foot long Ball Python, says, “I had no idea that snakes had such a horrible effect on the ecosystem.” Without proper knowledge of the effect of invasive snakes on the ecosystem, there is no reason why people wouldn’t release their snake into the wild.  Before she knew the damaging effect of the snakes on the ecosystem she admitted, “I mean yeah, I would release my snake into the wild, I don’t see a reason why not to.” Nora Nix

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