Pythons in the Everglades – are you safe?
Worried about meeting a python on your Florida vacation?
A vacation in Florida is all about relaxation – soaking up the sun, strolling the sandy beaches, spotting wildlife on the horizon. One of the world’s largest snakes isn’t quite what people have in mind. So when stories and videos of pythons snatching prey in the Everglades started covering the media, concerns were raised among tourists and locals. Snakes in general, don’t give people the warm and fuzzy feeling, expecially when they are upwards of 8 feet and can take down an alligator. This article will give you some facts – we’ll keep monitoring the situation for you.
Pythons are large enough to prey on native wildlife and also pets like dogs and cats. So far no human has ever been attacked by a python in the Everglades and the park tells us the creatures are very elusive and difficult to find. There are no signs or sounds to look out for and park staff insist that it is highly unlikely that a visitor will see a python. “No incidents involving visitor safety and pythons have occurred in the Park,” said Everglades National Park superintendent Dan Kimball. “Encounters with pythons are very rare; that said visitors should be vigilant and report all python sightings to park rangers.”
The good news is that the python is a constrictor snake and therefore not poisonous and somewhat elusive. Everglades Park staff suggest to be no more careful than you would with other native wildlife.
The basic premise to dealing with any wildlife encounter applies here:
- keep a safe distance between you and the reptile
- don’t try to feed the snake
- don’t interact with the python in any way
Notify the Park
If you do spot a python, you should notify park staff:
- by dialing 1-888-Ive-Got1
- reporting it via the IveGot1 website
- reporting it via IveGot1 iphone app.
iPhone App for tracking Python/Invasive Species
There is actually an iPhone app where you can record a sighting and upload it directly to organizations who are tracking the invasive species. Whether you’re a local or on a Florida vacation, the park relies on you as an integral part of keeping invasive species at bay. The IveGot1 app integrates with Florida’s outreach program for invasive species that includes the website and 1-888-IVEGOT1 hotline. Anytime you sight an invasive animal and report it via the app, it helps the National Park Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, better assess the problem and take more accurate steps to eradicate infestations before they threaten native species like melaleuca or Burmese pythons.
What started the flurry of articles in the media was a recent study that appeared in a National Academy of Science publication that speculated roadside sightings of smaller mammals in the Everglades were down due to the increase of Burmese pythons within the park. Although scientists were concerned about the food chain and ecosystem disruption, tourists are concerned for their safety.
Everglades National Park is quick to point out that the scientific theory hasn’t yet been proven, and they are on a mission to contain the snake. So far, more than 1,800 pythons have been removed from the park. This YouTube video gives further information on the work that is being done behind-the-scenes to irradicate these invasive species:
Frank Mazotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, University of Florida, recently wrote an article outlining the study that was conducted on the Everglades pythons. In a nutshell: more studies are needed before we know if the snakes are responsible for the biological changes.
How it started
There seem to be two key factors that led to the introduction of pythons into South Florida. In 1992, an imported snake storage facility was crushed during Hurricane Andrew and it’s believed the snakes escaped. The second cause is ongoing – pet owners who dump their snakes into the wild when they grow too big to keep at home. The park is trying to educate the public and offer solutions such as Non-native pet Amnesty Days where owners can give up their exotic pets with no fees, penalties or questions asked. There’s an Amnesty Day happening next weekend – we’ll post information for you next week.
The Burmese Python is especially a threat because it has no natural predators and adapts well to the South Florida habitat. With 2,400 square miles to cover in Everglades park, it is difficult to contain the snake. The problem, among many, is that it can prey on quite a variety of mammals and birds.
Non-native species are animals and plants that didn’t historically live in Florida, such as the barred owl or Florida largemouth bass. There are more than 500 nonnative fish and wildlife species in Florida and more than 1180 nonnative plant species. Non-native species can become invasive if they survive in the Florida environment and take root, start to spread and impact local populations. Take the Cuban tree frog, for example, that snuck into Florida in the 1930s via packing materials, and preyed on native tree frogs. Currently, nile monitor lizards in Cape Coral threaten the Florida burrowing owl and Burmese pythons are a growing cause of concern in the Everglades.
The Invasives Species Concern
Each year, 2 or 3 new species are introduced to Florida and it can have devastating effects. Invasive species have economic and ecological implications. Invasions cost more than $500 million per year but the greatest impact is on the native landscape, wildlife and agricultural crops. It’s estimated that within Florida more than 1.7 million acres have been infested. Australian Pine, for example, can consume entire acreages.
What would you do if you saw a massive python on your Florida vacation?