Invasive Pythons starting to migrate north

Officials caught and euthanized the 15.6-foot-long (4.78 meters) female snake in the Everglades on June 3, 2013. (Credit: Boback, S.M. et al. BioInvasions Records. 2016)

Bigger and bolder than ever. The Burmese Python population is exploding and they are on the move north.

Yes, scientists say the pythons are adapting and moving into residential areas, no longer confined to the Everglades more and more are being caught with pets inside.

They were once a rare sight in the Everglades, but now they are estimated to be in 10’s of thousands.

"At this point I don't think we will see the end of pythons in the Everglades," Busch Wildlife Sanctuary’s David Hitzig said,”now you have a non-native species which is truly taking over the habitat."

Hitzig says the habitat is past the tipping point now- pythons are the king predator.

So numerous in the Everglades, pythons are being tracked moving north to find prey. And they can eat a lot in one meal. A photo from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows a python caught as it digests three deer.

"Believe it or not their skin is very elastic, so they can swallow something that is 3 times around bigger than they are, sometimes even bigger than that depending on the size of the snake," Hitzig said.

Once a temperature below freezing, 32 degrees, would kill the invasive python- but scientists say the snakes are evolving, and adapting to the cold snaps. Now they are becoming common finds for residents near conservation areas in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

They will eat whatever they can find, often when they are near residential areas, pets become the prey.

"We had a python in Martin County brought into us and during the transportation of that animal to us regergitated an adult cat and a younger cat," Hitzig said,”and looking at that snake, you could not imagine that was even possible. They crush their prey before eating them so that is how they can eat so much.”

Not one, but two cats were found inside one python.

And the longer they are in the wild, Hitzig said, the more aggressive they become.

In the Everglades, pythons knock out prey for the endangered Florida panther, and can even potentially eat the panther’s young pups.

Burmese pythons are large constrictor snakes that can grow to 26 ft. in length. They are native to India, China, the Malay Peninsula, and some islands of the East Indies. Burmese pythons have been reported in extreme south Florida since the 1980s, and an established population is now located mainly within the bounds of Everglades National Park, but are migrating north.

"Both the State and Federal governments have looked at this and said we have got to do something," Hitzig said.

But many scientists say with 2 decades of breeding, it may be too little too late.

With multiple python hunting contests sponsored by the state in 2013 and in 2016, trying to capture the snake that can grow to 26 feet in length, it wasn't enough- now state and federal governments are trying with hunting dogs to capture the invasive snake, before it migrates farther north and east.

Can grow up to 20 feet in length.

Average size removed in Florida: 8-10 feet.

Native to South Asia.

In cool months, active during the day. In warm months, seen at night on roads.

Females lay about 30-40 eggs per year.

Can live past 20 years in captivity.

Skin pattern provides effective camouflage in landscape, making snakes difficult to see in the wild.

“Sit and wait” predators that prey on birds, mammals and reptiles.

In Florida they can no longer be acquired as personal pets.

Federal law prohibits transport across state lines or import into the country without a federal permit.

How to report a sighting:

1. Call the Exotic Species Hotline

888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681)

2. Report online

3. Download the IveGot1 app

Free for smart phones and tablets

If you live near affected areas, you can make your yard less attractive to Burmese pythons by removing excess debris and maintaining.

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