Python trackers find record breeding group in Florida

USA Today 5 months ago

Burmese pythons are taking over the historic Everglades. Hunts are held regularly, but the number of snakes removed is not on pace with the rate at which the snakes are spreading. They compete with and prey on native species.
Wochit

The roaming sentinel, a male python named Argo, with a surgically implanted tracking device, needed just three days to lead researchers to the largest trove of pythons found yet in Collier County.

It was a landmark discovery of the recently completed breeding season, just before Valentine’s Day. Argo had just found a 100-pound female python getting ready to lay eggs in a culvert. The female was captured, and Argo was let loose again to be tracked.

Three days later and a half-mile away, a team with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida found the invasive snake. This time he was surrounded.

“We locate him and then there is another male, and another male and another,” Conservancy wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek said. “We know what all the males are there for, so it’s like, where’s the female?”

The researchers beat through the brush and started pulling up the tall grass until they found her, a massive egg-laying female that would weigh in at 115 pounds.

Including Argo, she was with seven male Burmese pythons. The eight snakes, called a breeding aggregation, were the most found in one place in Southwest Florida and the western Everglades, where the pythons have been steadily spreading for years. It matches the largest aggregation found in the known hotbeds of the central and eastern Everglades, where the invasive and elusive predator has decimated entire populations of small mammals.

“It was a frenzy,” Bartoszek said.

It’s hard to say what an aggregate of that size means for the density and the number of pythons that now have a foothold in the swamps and thickets of eastern Collier County, Bartoszek said.

Just a few miles away, another male python the Conservancy tracks went the entire breeding season without finding a single female, he said.

When the Conservancy and Bartoszek euthanized and laid the seven pythons on a table back at the lab (Argo was released again) it was clear to the biologist, who has been chasing the snakes over the last five years, just what the Everglades ecosystem is up against.

“You look at some 250 pounds of python and you just think, what did it take to make that?” Bartoszek said. “How much native wildlife did it take to produce those?”

Part of what makes pythons so hard to track is they leave virtually no trace of their prey. The animals are swallowed whole, leaving no carcass to find, and excrete very little. The only way to know what they're eating is to catch and dissect them, and to watch what species are disappearing from the wild.

During the necropsies, it's clear that the pythons, which are thought to have been introduced to southern Florida through the exotic pet trade, are the top predator in the Everglades.

From their stomachs, biologists have pulled bobcat claws, deer hooves, birds, rabbits, opossums and raccoons.

The Conservancy estimates that 61 percent of the diet of pythons found in Collier County are small mammals such as rabbits, opossums and raccoons. Another 29 percent are rodents and birds.

“But if you go to the east coast, you’ll see those percentages flipped,” Bartoszek said. “There they’re eating almost all birds and rodents, because the rest are gone. You’d be very hard pressed to find a rabbit now in the east.”

Different agencies are taking different approaches to removing the python. It’s increasingly clear to all involved that it is likely the snakes will never be eradicated. They’re too hard to find and too good at hunting. The goal now is to slow or stop the spread of the snakes further north and west. No one is certain they will have success.

The Conservancy uses radio transmitters to hunt pythons. The trackers have been surgically implanted in about 20 male snakes called sentinels that are then followed to breeding females.

The Conservancy removed about 2,000 pounds of pythons this year, and the same amount last year.

“It’s about removal, but it’s also about research,” Bartoszek said. “As the technology advances we want to be able to follow the science. To really have an effective control we have to learn what we can learn about them and their habits to make informed decisions.”

Other agencies are trying programs with pheromone traps, hunting dogs and drones. The most successful, in terms of number of pythons removed, has been the South Florida Water Management District’s hunting program.

The district has hired 25 python hunters over the past year in Broward, Miami-Dade and Collier counties. Since March of 2017, those hunters have removed 922 invasive pythons, said Mike Kirkland, head of the program and invasive species biologist for the district.

“All together they were more than 6,600 feet and weighed over 15,000 pounds,” Kirkland said. “We estimate they ate over 150,000 animals; that’s what it would take to get to those numbers.”

The snakes are too vast and too cryptic to have much hope of eradicating, Kirkland said.

“But we may be able to achieve containment in some areas,” he said. “It’s really going to take an integrated approach. Trying a number of different methods is going to be our best chance of controlling numbers.”

Follow Greg Stanely on Twitter: @GregGStanley 

Source link
Read also:
NY Daily News 5 months ago
NEW YORK (AP) — The Latest on the New York federal court appearance of Keith Raniere, who's accused of coercing female followers of his...
PEOPLE.com Lifestyle 5 months ago
Authorities have accused a Florida man of murdering his ex-roommate after allegedly wrapping her head in duct tape, tying her to a bed and then...
UPI.com Sports 5 months ago
Quarterback Deondre Francois of Florida State is facing a misdemeanor marijuana charge, the Tallahassee Democrat reported on Thursday. Francois, a...
PEOPLE.com Lifestyle 5 months ago
Cardi B‘s debut album Invasion of Privacy has garnered an astonishing 100 million streams on Apple Music since it was first released last Friday...
Miami Herald Politics 5 months ago
Gov. Rick Scott wants the state Board of Education and Board of Governors for higher education to investigate all sabbatical payments to departing...
NY Daily News 5 months ago
NEW YORK (AP) — The leader of a secretive group accused of coercing female followers into having sex and getting branded with his initials remains...
Miami Herald 5 months ago
The Miami U.S. Attorney's office wrapped up a lengthy investigation into a South Florida bird smuggling ring this week that involved sophisticated...
NY Daily News 5 months ago
Mayor de Blasio planned to kick it with his comrades Friday night — attending a reunion of a group whose humanitarian work helped the Sandinistas in...
NY Daily News Sports 5 months ago
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois again finds himself in off-field trouble. The rising junior was cited by...
One click to connect
Select a social network to associate your account