HomeOutdoorsNewsResearch Indicates Florida Python Population Spreading North

Research Indicates Florida Python Population Spreading North

by Brett Stayton
Photo by Christophe Lehenaff/Getty Images

By now the Burmese python invasion of the Florida everglades is no secret. The snakes have been taking over down there for well over two decades now. Despite efforts to eradicate them, their populations continue to boom. Now the U.S. Geological Survey has released what it calls a comprehensive synthesis of Burmese python science. Field and Stream took a deep dive into the report. The biggest news is that that the giant invasive snakes have now spread beyond their core range in the south Florida Everglades and into places like West Palm Beach and Fort Myers, Florida.

The study calls Florida’s python invasion “one of the most intractable invasive-species management problems across the globe.” It also contends that eradication of the species is impossible with existing tools. With the snakes moving north, a trail of ecological devastation in is expected to be left behind.

“For the first time, all the science on python ecology and potential control tools have been consolidated into one document, allowing us to identify knowledge gaps and important research areas to help inform future python management strategies,” said Jacquelyn Guzy. She’s a USGS Ecologist and the lead author of the study. “This synthesis is a major milestone for Burmese python research; six years in the making, it represents the consensus of the scientific community on the python invasion,” she continued.

Pythons Wrecking Fragile Florida Ecosystem

The scientific consensus about what the pythons might do in the future is a bummer. Especially for anyone who was hoping to see pythons removed from Florida’s fragile and remarkably biodiverse ecosystem. USGS Research Ecologist Kristen Hart, another author of the study also shared her thoughts. “Extremely low individual python detection rates hamper our ability to both estimate python abundance and expand control tools across the extensive natural landscape,”

Pythons are almost impossible o locate in the wild. You can’t really trap them, you have to hunt them. Plus their natural camouflage is incredibly well suited to the Florida terrain, where they’ve been reproducing rapidly since at least the year 2000. Dr. Chris Jenkins is the CEO of a reptile and amphibian conservation organization called the Orianne Society. Jenkins is an expert on the Florida python problem. He says that the invasive snakes have introduced a parasite that’s now turning up in threatened eastern indigo snakes.

Invasive Pythons Negatively Impacting Native Reptiles

“From my perspective, it would be next to impossible—very, very difficult—to get these pythons out of their current range,” Jenkins tells said. “Part of that has to do with the landscape. The epicenter of their distribution right now in Florida is the wildest place east of the Mississippi. You’re talking about one of the largest wilderness areas in all of the United States—huge tracts of public land. And those tracts of land are not as accessible as what we see with more terrestrial environments.”

Jenkins says that one of the primary challenges when it comes to reducing Burmese python populations has to do with the invasive snakes’ relatively high rate of reproductive success. Like another well-known invasive—wild hogs—they multiply so rapidly, that no amount of human efforts put a substantial and lasting dent in their population numbers.

Giant Snakes Also Crushing Mammal Populations

“Imagine trying to eradicate wild hogs from the landscape,” says Jenkins, an avid hog hunter himself who pursues wild pigs in the mountains of north Georgia and along lowland stretches of the Peach State. “Just based on their biology alone, the amount of effort it would take to get rid of them is very, very difficult. And pythons are nowhere near as accessible as hogs in most cases. They’re out in these seas of wetlands that go on forever, and they’re underground. They’re just incredibly difficult to detect.”

That’s bad news for south Florida’s native species, particularly small to medium-sized mammals like possums and raccoons, and even whitetail deer. “The populations of the mid-sized mammal have really declined,” Jenkins says. “Florida is a very unique place within North America in terms of biodiversity, and there are other things like the key deer—this really small version of a whitetail deer. Pythons will eat key deer, and one of the great fears is that pythons could impact their population.”