Think you've seen a Burmese python or another invasive reptile? Call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1. One of 400 responders trained by The Nature Conservancy will be dispatched.
More than a dozen years ago, Burmese pythons found their way into the wilds of Florida. Once household pets, they had either escaped or were released, and today, after years of breeding, the mainland around Everglades National Park contains tens of thousands of the snakes… which can feast on rare and endangered species.
Birth of Python Patrol
While pythons aren’t known to attack people, they are voracious and indiscriminate eaters eaters. They have been known to eat a wide range of wildlife from tiny songbirds to adult deer and alligators up to 6 feet long.
See a slideshow of rare species that have been found in a python's stomach.
The first Keys python was discovered alive in 2007 when researchers checking on the status of a male Key Largo woodrat wearing a radio transmitter noticed it strangely had moved more than a mile from its original documented habitat. The signal led the two researchers — a University of St. Andrews graduate student and a volunteer assistant studying federally endangered Key Largo woodrats — to a 7-1/2-foot Burmese python sunning itself. The contents of the captured snake’s stomach included not only the collared woodrat but another one as well.
To help solve the issue, the Nature Conservancy in Florida launched Python Patrol in 2008. One of the over 400 responders trained by The Nature Conservancy can deal directly with the situation by safely and humanely capturing and removing pythons or other exotic constrictors they encounter.
Citizens can learn how to identify pythons and other non-native animals at an in-person detector training or online. Anyone can call in snake sightings (1-888-IVE-GOT-1) to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which now coordinates Python Patrol, and a trained responder can be dispatched.
“We encourage anyone who sees a python or other non-native animal to take a photo from a safe distance and report it on our hotline, the free IveGot1 apps or at IveGot1.org,” says Cheryl Millett, the Conservancy biologist who recently transferred Python Patrol to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in December 2013.
“Early-detection, rapid-response is the best way to stop them from spreading,” says Millett, adding, “even if the idea of getting your hands on a python gives you the heebie-jeebies, you can be part of the solution by learning how to spot them, calling it in if you see one, and helping us remove them.”
To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.
Interesting fact: Burmese python hatchlings are 18” long and the longest one captured in south Florida was 18’8”.
In a Marathon Race with a Python, You’d Win
Burmese pythons are ambush predators with great camouflage, so they spend lots of time hiding in wait and then expend a lot of energy in a short burst to surprise capture their prey. Python Patrol responders can use python’s lack of endurance to help make capturing them easier.
During training, responders are taught how they can pull an escaping python back by the tail repeatedly to let the snake expend a lot of energy. When the snake is tired, the capturer firmly grabs at the base of the head and avoids the writhing body getting wrapped around his or her legs. Snakes captured in the wild are securely bagged, boxed, tagged and dropped off to a designated recipient for research or training.
“We ask the responders to consider safety first and then work to tire out the snake before they capture it. Luckily these pythons tire very quickly,” Millett says.
Remember: Always call a trained responder and NEVER try this at home.
It's in the Numbers
Twenty five different bird species, including the endangered wood stork, have been found in the digestive tracts of pythons in Everglades National Park, according to a March 2010 study.
In January 2012, a severe decline in a variety of mammal populations in the Everglades over the last eight years was documented in a report released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called Severe Mammal Declines Coincide with Proliferation of Invasive Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park. Researchers correlated pythons with the dramatic declines in mammal numbers and noted other potential causes, like disease, are unlikely since so many species showed decline.
To reach a full-grown length of about 13 feet, one python would need to eat nearly 200 pounds of food over five years. Some captured Florida snakes have grown as large over 18 feet.
Policy of Prevention
The Conservancy has long called for a more preventative and proactive approach to address the threat of invasive species.
“Right now imported species are innocent until proven guilty,” says Kris Serbesoff-King, the Conservancy’s associate director of conservation. “As a nation, we need to focus on pre-importation screening – that is to say looking at what will likely be a small number of non-native imported wildlife that could go on to be harmful to the lands and waters we are working to protect.”
The Conservancy has been working on the policy end since 2006, starting with support for the South Florida Water Management District’s petition to list the Burmese python as a federal injurious species.
In 2010, the Florida Legislature adopted a Conservancy-backed measure prohibiting personal possession of seven large constrictors and one large monitor lizard, formerly designated “reptiles of concern.” These eight reptiles, including the Burmese python, are now classified as conditional species; people who owned these reptiles before the law went into effect and followed state permitting, microchipping and caging requirements were allowed to keep the reptiles they already owned.
To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.
Next Stop: Washington D.C.?
At the federal level, the Conservancy has supported efforts by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to advance legislation banning the importation and interstate commerce of the Burmese python.
The U.S. enacted that ban January 17, 2012 on four snakes: the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African python. This step — to include these species in the prohibitions of the federal Lacey Act used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent and manage invasive species — is needed to reduce the number of pythons escaping from or being released into the wild by pet owners who don't understand the responsibility caring for a large python entails.
“Their native habitat compares well to the Gulf region of the southern United States,” adds Serbesoff-King.
The Conservancy has strongly backed efforts to introduce a comprehensive approach that would proactively restrict trade in animals predicted to be highly invasive — before they become established.
The Conservancy supports federal legislation to institute a preventive approach – give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to assess risks associated with imported wildlife and prohibit the importation of species likely to be invasive in the United States.
Prevention is always the most cost effective and efficient approach to addressing invasive species,” says Serbesoff-King. “It protects our native plants and animals and saves money by avoiding costly and difficult control efforts.” It would alleviate the need for a petition-by-petition listing of injurious species — a process that takes an average of four years.“
What Can You Do?
• Become familiar with distinguishing invasive from native reptiles. Free online REDDy training is available through the University of Florida and offers a certificate at end of the 40-minute free training, plus ID and reporting handouts.
• Report an invasive species sighting at I-888-I’veGot1, www.IveGot1.org or the free “IveGot1” apps for iPhone or Droid, that were developed by the University of Georgia.
• Find out what to do when you can no longer care for an exotic pet.
• To help the Conservancy’s efforts, click here to donate today.