Since the explosion of the Burmese python population in South Florida, wildlife researchers have had to come up with creative ways to expedite their removal. One of the most recent – and most gruesome – methods involves GPS collars attached to other animals. More specifically, the enormous snakes‘ prey.
To better observe raccoon and possum behavior on the outskirts of Crocodile National Wildlife Refuge, a team of researchers fitted dozens of the little animals with GPS collars, allowing them to track the movements of these critters over the next several months.
Time passed and soon it was September, five months after the start of the study. While monitoring the collared animals, researchers noticed that one of the possum collars sent out a mortality signal, triggered by lack of movement.
In the moment, they didn’t think much of it. The poor little possum was likely struck by a vehicle, or maybe even killed by a dog. A few hours later, however, the possum appeared to reanimate, its collar showing movement once again.
They would need to see the collar in person to confirm it, but researchers had a sneaking suspicion. What if the possum was eaten by one of Florida’s monstrous Burmese pythons? It would explain the stretch of inactivity followed by sudden movement perfectly.
Unlike other animals, snakes take time to relax while digesting their meals. The larger the meal, the more relaxation time the snakes require. Confirming this theory, however, wouldn’t be quite as easy as one might think.
Florida Researchers Euthanize Invasive Burmese Python
Even with the GPS tracking collar, scientists had the fossilized coral reef that is Key Largo to contend with. Rather than a simple walk through the forest, this snake forced scientists to track it underground.
After a month of tracking the Burmese python through the underground tunnels of South Florida, researchers finally snatched it from its hiding place. Pulling the snake up from the ancient tunnel, they discovered that it was a 12-foot, 66-pound female capable of laying close to 100 eggs.
This marked a major find for researchers, as females pose a far greater threat than males. Removing just one female from the ecosystem is the equivalent of removing dozens of future snakes.
After euthanizing the python, the team opened her up and found the GPS collar still lodged in her stomach. The very same one worn by the possum she digested months before. They hope to fit another possum with the same GPS collar soon to continue their research – and python hunt.
Unfortunately, this method won’t work across the board. The invasive Burmese python – a population that established itself after irresponsible Florida snake owners dumped their pets in the wild – has done such damage to the ecosystem of the Everglades that there are “no more mammals to put these collars on,” research partner Michael Cove explained to Tampa Bay Times.