Pythons have invaded the Everglades over 3 decades ago, and since then biologists have been blamed for making marsh rabbits, wading birds, wood storks, Cape Sable seaside sparrows and other endangered animals even more endangered.
As their number grew out of control many researchers have tried to explain the phenomenon, but a new study published earlier this week suggests that the animals simply find the living conditions in Florida’s national park homey due to prey availability, the absence of natural enemies and favorable environments.
Kris Hart, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the lead author on a study, explained that “it has to do with food and sex”, the base instincts of all animals.
Using radio tags and GPS to monitor their daily activities, scientists tracked and studied 19 pythons for a collective 5 years. They were interested in finding out where the snakes eat, sleep, mate and hide from bad weather, hoping that the data would help them find better strategies for removing the beautiful, ferocious predators.
After tagging the pythons, scientist released them as close to where they had been caught as they could, and tracked their movements. Most of the snakes stayed in an area 3 miles wide by 3 miles long.
They found that a greater number of Burmese pythons live in the Everglades than in their native region, Southeast Asia; that they live in tress, but also underground; that they thrive in freshwater marshes, but are very adaptable as one snake made himself comfortable in a saltwater mangrove swamp.
Hart declared that “they’re completely capable of living in the Gulf of Mexico mangroves for a year […] He was just happy as a clam in that saltwater”.
The snakes also make longer daily trails than they do in Southeast Asia, probably enjoy spending time together and evidence suggests that they can also swim, and quite enjoys making nests close to water sources.
Their biggest weakness seems to be cold weather, with a 2010 cold snap wiping out 9 of the 10 snakes it had been monitoring, while one of their biggest advantages seems to be their coloration: “they’re the color of mud and palm trees and detritus and leaves. And they’re quiet” Hart says.
The general belief is that the number of Burmese pythons in the Everglades started increasing in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew supposedly damaged a non professional breeding facility from which the creatures escaped.
There are now 300,000 pythons living in Florida, too many for the species to ever be eradicated from the area, and scientists say that while they usually eat birds and mammals, even alligators can end up in the large predator’s belly. Even though alligators fight back, they’re generally subdued and consumed.
Since their arrival in the Everglades, the raccoon population has dropped by 99%, the opossum population has dropped by 98%, the white-tailed deer population has dropped by 94%, the bobcat population has dropped by 87%, and there’s no trail of the rabbits and foxes that once lived here.
Image Source: earthtimes.org