Pythons Invading Florida: How Science is Fighting Back

Alexander-Lakhanpal-plastic

Florida is known for their Everglades being homes to large gators, pesky mosquitos and now 15-feet long pythons. The Burmese Pythons are not native to Florida but have populated enough to negatively influence the natural food cycle of the Everglades and become a threat to humans. These invasive snakes are big, hidden, and reproduce in large amounts. Researchers and scientists are studying not only their influence on the food chain but also how to get rid of this species from the area.

 

The Invasion

The reasons for this quick increase of pythons are quite simple. Not only South Florida the perfect wet, mammal-rich environment for snakes to thrive, these snakes are egg-producing machines. One single female can lay over 50 eggs. The population of pythons has increased so much that the state has created programs that allow for rewards for the successful elimination and capturing of pythons. Many of the pythons being captured through this program are spanning over 10 feet long and are becoming so large that they have the ability to consume a grown adult. These snakes have the ability to grow to over 20 feet long and could consume a human in minutes.

 

The Food Chain

One of the other negative impacts of the increasing presence of pythons is their influence on the availability of food in the Everglades. Pythons eat many sized mammals from small rats to large deer and anything in between. These snakes are now clearing out many of the food sources for other animals and insects, especially mosquitos.

Prior to the arrival of pythons, hispid cotton rats were about 15 percent of the mosquitoes’ diet. Mosquitos also preyed on raccoons, opossums, and deer. Due to pythons taking a bite out of the other animals’ populations, mosquitos are left to only rats. Their diet now is made up of three-quarters rat. The negative to mosquitoes feeding off of rats more means there is an increase of them spreading the Everglades virus, which is common among rats of the Everglades. Nathan Burkett-Cadena, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology has stated, “As far as I am aware, this is the first time that researchers have found that an invasive predator (such as the python) has caused an increase in contact between mosquitoes and hosts of a human pathogen,”.