Sunday, May 1, 2011

Venture Out! Everglades Invader

A nine-foot Burmese python hides amongst the leaves in an upland hammock

Many of you have heard the stories about pythons taking over the Everglades. While I wish this were another Skunk Ape story hyperbolized by one sighting, for those of us who live and work in the park this is a very real and scary problem. Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are one of the world's largest snakes and unfortunately have been released into the park. Due to their incredibly high survival rates and south Florida's favorable climate, their populations have exploded over the last few years. It is estimated that anywhere from 5,000 to 200,000 pythons are currently residing in the Everglades. Research biologists in the park are working hard to find new ways of controlling their numbers.

Trey Kieckhefer, wildlife biologist with the University of Florida

Last week I had the chance to accompany wildlife biologist Trey Kieckhefer to get a better understanding of the problem we're facing in the Everglades. One of his studies involves implanting a tracking device under the skin of nine pythons and rereleasing them into the park. While this many seem counterproductive to limiting the number of these invasive reptiles, the "Judas Snakes" as they're called, help lead biologists to other pythons during the breeding season and offer clues as to their behavior in south Florida. Normally when biologists encounter pythons in the field, they take them back to the lab for further research or euthanasia.

Biologists use radio telemetry to track the movements and habits of select pythons

Trey currently holds the record for finding the largest python in the park, at a staggering 16.9 feet. You would think a snake this big would easily be detected by the millions of tourists and workers that pour through the park entrance each year. However, as you will find in my next episode of Venture Out!, regardless of size, the Burmese python is difficult to locate even with radio telemetry and GPS tracking.

Enjoy the video and pray for our Everglades!

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