Invasive pythons have been invading South Florida’s swamps since the 1970s—and in recent years, the snakes have been spreading north. In the process, they’ve drastically reduced native mammal populations in the Everglades and elsewhere. But a new study is cause for optimism.
The study, which was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners, looked at the mortalities of 19 baby pythons between May 2021 and February 2022. The goal of the research was to learn more about the life cycles of the invasive serpents—which are notoriously hard to track or monitor in the wild.
The scientists used implanted radio transmitters to keep tabs on the snakes—then responded to the scene whenever one of the transmitters gave off a mortality signal. Of the dead juvenile pythons, five were killed by alligators, three by carnivorous mid-sized mammals, potentially bobcats or Florida panthers, and three by cottonmouth snakes. Seven of the deaths were unattributed. One python died from trying to eat a hispid cotton rat that was 106 percent heavier than itself.
The research unequivocally shows that some native species are targeting juvenile pythons as a food source. This comes on the heels of a 2022 incident in which a bobcat raided a python nest. That incident was described as the first-ever evidence of a native animal preying on python eggs. Scientists hope information gleaned from the recent study—and others to come— can inform management tactics going forward.
“We need more information and are continuing to track juvenile pythons in Southern Florida to understand their ecology, particularly movement, habitat use, and survival,” biologist Mark Sandfoss told USA Today. “Our role as scientists is to try to tip the scales in the direction of the native species and identify the weaknesses of the invasive species that we can exploit for management purposes.”