Tracking Snakes in Florida

Burmese Pythons are an invasive species that likely found their way to Florida during exotic pet trades in the 1990s. The pythons have thrived since joining the ecosystems of Florida, even establishing breeding colonies from Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in western Palm Beach County to Key Largo. The species is so invasive that python hunts have been hosted to try and limit the population. 

A team that tracks behaviors of small mammals –like raccoons and possums– may have found a new way to track down the invasive species. Michael Cove, Curator of mammals at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and his team had put GPS collars on the small mammals and tracked them for months. As they were observing the mammals’ behavior along the urban and wilderness fringe of Crocodile National Wildlife Refuge, five months into their study, a collar had sent out a mortality signal caused by lack of movement. A few hours later, however, the collar started moving again. Cove stated: “That’s the signature signal that they got eaten by a snake.” His research team speculates that the python sat around while digesting the possum, then proceeded to move on. Although, it still took time to confirm their hunch due to Key Largo being riddled with caves and pockets underground. It had taken a month of tracking the snake before it could be pulled from the ground. When they did find the snake, however, it was a 12-foot-long female weighing 66 pounds and was full of egg follicles. Large female pythons can carry close to 100 eggs at once, causing an exponential growth that decimated Southern Florida ecosystems for decades. Removing snakes like the one they found could significantly decrease the future population. 

After capturing the snake, the research team euthanized her, removed the follicles, and retrieved the collar. They hope to fit the collar onto another possum soon. Two more pythons have eaten animals wearing the collar, but only one of them has been found. The second python was found much quicker, the third one, however, had digested the collar out before it could be located and extracted. “This was really crushing to me that we didn’t pull out this giant monster snake that ate this latest opossum,” Cove expressed, but the third snake showed the urgency required to find some of the larger snakes. 

Despite the new method of tracking the invasive species, there are some issues researchers will have to work around. As of now, the collars cost $1,500 each, however, researchers hope to use cheaper collars costing $200 each. Another issue is finding a way for the collars to stay within the snake. Researchers have thought of using a mechanic like zip-ties, attaching to the inside of the snake. There would be a better chance of finding the bigger snakes if they wouldn’t digest the collar. 

Researchers hope this method of tracking could limit the python population boom. The invasive species has thrived so much in the Everglades National Park that Cove had stated, “there are no more mammals to put these collars on.” Since 2000, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reported the removal of over 17,000 wild Burmese pythons from Florida. Some ways pythons have been extracted before included a Florida Python Challenge in October of 2022. This removal project was a contest resulting in dozens of pythons being removed from the ecosystems.


Tampa Bay Times

Out Kick

Fox News

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