Every visitor to the Everglades will see a few of the usual suspects – alligators, frogs, birds – as well as a few species that are relatively new to the area. Once such species is the Burmese python – a species of snake that was not present in South Florida at all previous to 1979, and of which there are now estimated to be between 5,000 and 180,000 in the wilderness.
The presence of the Burmese python in the Florida Everglades has been brought to the public’s attention most recently through a series of photographs depicting native alligators and non-native pythons in vigorous scuffles of life and death. Surprisingly, it’s often the much smaller invasive python that ends up on top. The Burmese python is known for it’s insatiable appetite, preying on species as small as birds and as large as deer – and now even alligators!
While the local Parks Service immediately removes any pythons reported in the area, more are constantly being brought into the area and sold as exotic pets – over 6,000 pythons alone were imported into Miami within a two year period. Sadly, when these pets become too large or too difficult for their owners to maintain, they are often released into the wild where even a single python can cause huge amounts of damage to the local ecosystem.
As long as they are present in the Florida Everglades, pythons will continue to hold their spot close to the top of the food chain, feeding on an estimated thirty-nine species that are considered endangered and an additional forty-one species that are considered rare. A study published in 2011 found that the populations of many local mammals have dropped more than 90% since the introduction of the Burmese python. It is unclear what the future holds for the Burmese python and those unfortunate species that it feeds on, but it is clear that if something is not done soon, many of the local species that have lived here for thousands of years will soon disappear for good.