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Python invasion one of the greatest threats to restoration of Everglades.

WILDLIFE

Pythons, invasive and hungry, are making their way north in Florida

By Patricia Mazzei

The New York Times

MIAMI>> So much for all the efforts to slow the proliferation of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades over the last two decades, including with paid contractors, trained volunteers and an annual hunt that has drawn participants from as far as Latvia:

The giant snakes have been making their way north, reaching West Palm Beach and Fort Myers and threatening ever-larger stretches of the ecosystem.

That was one of the few definitive conclusions in a comprehensive review of python science published last month by the U.S. Geological Survey, which underscored the difficulty of containing the giant snakes since they were first documented as an established population in the state in 2000.

Little is known about how long Burmese pythons live in the wild in Florida, how often they reproduce and especially how large the state’s python population has grown, according to the review, which called the state’s python problem “one of the most intractable invasive-species management issues across the globe.”

Nor is it known how exactly they travel.

The review theorized that South Florida’s extensive network of canals and levees “may facilitate long-distance movement by pythons,” though it suggested that slithering and swimming to points north may take awhile.

“One python transited continuously for 58.5 hours and traveled 2.43 kilometers in a single day,” the review said of a snake followed with radio tracking.

More research should be conducted to develop and evaluate new tools to eradicate pythons and to refine existing ones, the study found, adding that controlling the species’ spread is critical to protecting the Everglades.

Earlier studies found that Burmese pythons, which are nonnative apex predators originally from South Asia, had decimated native species, including wading birds, marsh rabbits and white-tailed deer.

Pythons found in Florida have measured longer than 15 feet and weighed more than 200 pounds, the review found; even hatchlings can be more than 2 feet long.

The pythons’ voracious spread is all the more alarming given the billions of dollars that the state and the federal government have spent on restoring the Everglades, the review noted, calling invasive species “one of the greatest threats to restoration success.”

Florida, with its subtropical climate, numerous entry ports and prolific live animal trade, has at least 139 established invasive species, meaning that they are reproducing in the wild, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

More than 500 nonnative species have been reported in the state over time.

The review notes that while Burmese pythons have mostly been spotted in and around Everglades National Park and other swamplands, many have also been found in Naples and the western outskirts of Miami.

Detecting pythons is so challenging that experts do not know how many exist in Florida, though they estimate that there are at least tens of thousands. More than 18,000 have been removed since 2000, including 2,500 in 2022, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

 

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