Researchers in The Florida Keys and South Florida inadvertently stumbled on a new way to track large Burmese pythons. This has given Florida python hunters a new edge in the battle against this invasive species that’s nearly impossible to track in the wild.
Previously, the best method Florida python hunters have to track Burmese pythons required following weather patterns and hoping for a little bit of luck. When the South Florida weather goes from cool to warm, these snakes will often seek out the warmth of concrete or asphalt.
In those instances, the invasive snakes are exposed and easy to spot. But 99.99% of the time, Burmese pythons are very difficult to find because they are perfectly camouflaged for the Florida Everglades.
Researchers in Key Largo just handed Florida python hunters a new edge
Researchers in Key Largo were studying mammal behavior in the Florida Keys. They had outfitted raccoons and possums in the Crocodile National Wildlife Refuge with GPS collars and tracked their movements for months.
Several months into the study, one of the possums fitted with a GPS collar stopped moving. A ‘mortality’ signal was sent back to the researchers, alerting them that it was likely dead.
The most likely culprit at that time was a car incident/road kill, but the researchers noticed the GPS collar began moving again several hours later.
Michael Cove of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences told the Tampa Bay Times that type of movement was “the signature signal that they got eaten by a snake.” They had a lock on the GPS collar but tracking the snake was a herculean task.
It would take them weeks to find the snake. Michael Cove says “This thing was underground. It took a month of tracking the snake underground (to capture it).” Once they found the snake they opened it up and this descripton from the TB Times is alarming:
When they finally yanked it out of the ground, they discovered a 12-foot-long, 66-pound female full of egg follicles. Large females like this can lay close to 100 eggs, and are the holy grail for python hunters. Removing them from the ecosystem is like removing dozens, if not hundreds, of future snakes. The team euthanized her, opened her up and retrieved the collar, which they hope to fit onto another possum soon.
I’ve previously read about field biologists using GPS-tagged tortoises to track the whereabouts of snakes because they use the same ‘dens’ as Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. But that’s never been an exact science. In those instances, they’d outfit some sort of a camera to see what was down there.
This new effort revelation about tracking possums and raccoons will soon be intentional.
According to the TB Times, a second GPS collar stopped moving two weeks ago. It was fitted on a large raccoon.
What they found after tracking the collar was a 77-pound Burmese python full of egg follicles. A few short days later, it happened again. A collar stopped moving and they tracked it but this time they just found snake poop with the GPS collar inside.
For those conflicted about the morality of this new method of hunting pythons, they point out that “there are size limitations to the snakes. These are big raccoons and larger male opossums, so big snakes that are taking these — the largest snakes are big females.”
This isn’t sacrificing every raccoon and possum in the study just to find snakes. It’s only the biggest snakes that are being found because those are the snakes that are big enough to eat large raccoons and possums.
Few invasive species have adjusted as perfectly to the subtropical and Savanna climates of South Florida as the Burmese python. The Koppen climate subtropical line runs laterally across South Florida with much of The Florida Everglades being classified as a Savanna climate which means 68° to 86°F average temps and an 8-month rainy season.
The article in the TB Times points out that this isn’t going to be cheap, should Florida python hunters pursue this new method aggressively. Current GPS collars cost $1,500 each and they work for about two years. $1,500 to catch a big snake capable of birthing hundreds back into the Florida Everglades though, that might be worth it.
15+ Foot Burmese Python Crossing The Road
That video was posted by Rosie Moore who has an M.S. in Geosciences and is an avid freediver. Her caption reads:
“The Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) is one of the largest snakes in the world (up to 20+ft). This particular Python was roughly 18 ft, and had consumed a 5ft alligator. 🤯 *Burmese pythons are required to be euthanized in Florida. This Python was euthanized by those who found it, and turned over to a research lab for necropsy and scientific sample collection. That process is shown in this video.”
“Due to the the subtropical environment of South Florida, paired with the Burmese pythons long life span and rapid reproduction, these snakes have successfully invaded ecologically sensitive areas such as Everglades National Park. This poses a threat to a variety of wildlife, due to the pythons wide dietary preferences.”
The top comment on Rosie’s Instagram post is from the infamous Python Cowboy. You can see him take a vicious bite from a 17-foot snake, or find a python nest with over 45 eggs.
His comment is illuminating. It reads “I’ve found a number of them with gators inside or actively strangling… gators are becoming a common good source for them.”
If anyone in the Florida Everglades has expertise in these pythons swallowing alligators, it is this guy. And his comment suggests that as the years go on and these pythons grow larger they are having little trouble swallowing the alligators.
In the comments, Rosie Moore said “I actually thought it was pretty gross too and I’m used to necropsies and things.” She added “we were taking breaks running outside trying to get some fresh air, I’ve never smelled anything like that.”
Many people in the Instagram comments are asking/wondering why they would cut open the deceased Burmese Python and that answer is simple: science.
It is important for scientists to know what these invasive snakes are eating in order to devise ways to better track the snakes and stop them from proliferating.