Burmese Pythons

The Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) is another large exotic carnivore entrenched in Florida (Meshaka et al. 2000). The pathway to invasion for this species has been largely attributed to (illegal) pet releases (e.g., Snow et al. 2006). However, the highly destructive impacts from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 included the release of many animals from captive breeding and holding facilities. Recent genetic results showing little differentiation among pythons captured in south Florida are congruent with this possibility for precipitating the population and the resultant numbers currently observed (Collins et al. 2008).

Similar to the Nile Monitor, there is a diminishing probability for successful eradication as time passes without intensive management action. Its range has been expanding, although the total extent of its potential range in the U.S. has been the subject of considerable controversy (Barker and Barker 2008, Pyron et al. 2008). Nevertheless, containment to its current range may not remain realistic without developing and broadly implementing control methodologies. This very large snake (up to 7 m) has been found with increasing frequency in and around Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida. The possibility that this snake might replace the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) as the top-order carnivore in its range cannot be discounted. In addition, this is one of the six largest snakes in the world, and a large python could pose a danger to humans, especially in Everglades National Park which has over a million visitors annually.

Controlling Burmese pythons in everglades habitats of wet sawgrass prairies with interspersed hardwood hammocks will be challenging. The snake appears vulnerable to approaches that take advantage of its reproductive behaviors. Telemetry trials have already demonstrated on a small scale that female snakes during breeding season can be used as lures to locate males, and telemetered males can be used to locate females (Snow et al. 2006). Since it takes three to five years for Burmese pythons to reach sexual maturity, control based on reproductive behaviors would be a multi-year endeavor to capture animals as they reach sexual maturity.

A set of control tools and strategies were successfully developed for another destructive invasive snake, the brown tree snake on Guam (Engeman and Vice 2001). While the Burmese python is a significantly different species than the brown tree snake, the same conceptual approaches for developing an integrated pest management program can be applied. For example on small scales, multi-capture traps are being designed and research is being conducted on potential attractants within multiple agencies. Similarly, tests also have been initiated into the toxicity to Burmese pythons of acetaminophen, again with promising results (R. Mauldin and P. Savarie, National Wildlife Research Center unpublished data). In Florida, bait placement would need to be specific to Burmese pythons to avoid harming nontarget species. The unique combination of the python's size, dietary potential, and movement ability could be used to make bait delivery specific to the pythons.

The research into control methods and strategies for Burmese pythons has received very limited funding to date, but the technical expertise for developing and implementing control methods is in place should sufficient funding become available for initiating a concerted control effort. Hopefully, the snake's increasingly high profile in the media and in political circles will lead to improved funding in the near future. In the meantime, the range of the snake continues to expand.

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  • ANA STEVENSON
    When do burmese pythons reach sexual maturity?
    8 years ago

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