Invasive Pythons Squeezing Florida Everglades

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The state agency's law enforcement division recently authorized its officers to kill exotic reptiles, specifically pythons, found on lands under its management, said Kevin Enge, a scientist with the commission.

"When you release [pet pythons] into a wild area like that, they're able to find sufficient things such as food, water, shelter," Krysko said. "And of course it was only a matter of time before they found mates."

Young pythons with umbilical cord scars have been captured, he said, proving the former pets now breed in the wild.

In December scientists plan to capture and tag several pythons with radio-tracking devices to reveal their exact whereabouts inside the 1.5-million-acre (600,000-hectare) national park.

Enge said he just approved a permit for the park service to release these captured pythons back into the wild—something that is normally illegal to do.

"Hopefully that information will enable [park operators] to better determine where to catch pythons in the future," Enge said. "Then, once they've got that information, they'll euthanize the pythons."

Invasive Impact

Wildlife experts say it's too early to tell what, if any, impact the snakes are having on native Everglades species.

But there is some worry the pythons may start feeding on birds, such as limpkins, which are not accustomed to defending themselves against nocturnal predators.

"Burmese pythons in their native range have been known to hang around wading bird roosts and prey on them at night by climbing up [trees] and getting them," Enge said.

Stomach contents of captured and road-kill pythons have shown they frequently eat small mammals, such as rabbits, raccoons, grey squirrels, and possums.

The monster constrictors can also squeeze the life out much larger prey before swallowing it whole. Earlier this month a 13-foot (4-meter) python tried eating a 6-foot (2-meter) alligator. (See "Photo in the News: Python Bursts After Eating Gator.")

The sizable meal proved too much for the snake, though. The partially digested alligator was found protruding from the dead python's ruptured gut.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is now considering tightening regulations to stem the flow of illegally abandoned and escaped constrictors.

Possibilities include requiring owners to obtain a U.S. $140-per-year permit and implanting pythons with identification microchips, Enge said.

In the meantime FWC is encouraging pet shops to take back unwanted snakes previously purchased from them.

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