Canine Detectives Follow Their Noses to Help Control Invasive Pythons in Florida Keys

Posted by Stacey Venzel
yellow labs

Two dogs are helping combat the growing Burmese python population in southern Florida.

Floyd and Vito aren't your average detectives. They've got powerful noses and infectious energy. And four paws and happy-go-lucky tails. Floyd and Vito are dogs and they're ready to help stop a harmful invasive species: Burmese pythons.

The Labrador Retriever duo are ex-bomb sniffers, who have since moved on to snakes.

While stationed for four months in the Upper Keys, which includes the island of Key Largo, Floyd and Vito have tracked down the scent of five Burmese pythons to date. Four of the five caught pythons were uncovered at a derelict missile base in the Upper Keys.

dog sniffing

As invasive species, the slithery reptiles have no natural predators in the region. Their diet of small prey is decimating the native bird and mammal population in Florida. Despite their massive size and population excess, camouflage successfully shields Burmese pythons from the naked eye.

Enter dog noses.

Canine snouts house approximately 300 million olfactory receptors; in comparison, humans have less than two percent that amount. Additionally, dogs have a much larger section of their brain dedicated simply to odor detection, which explains their ability to sniff out cancer and perceive low blood sugar.

When the K9 Unit catches a whiff of python--or whatever their nose has been trained to smell--they simply sit quietly in the area. Don't worry--the dogs are also taught to sit a secure distance away.

"A snake can be sitting right in front of you and you'll never see it; that's how cryptic they are. The dogs don't need to see them. They just have to smell them," Christina Romagosa told the Orlando Sentinel.

dog sniffing

The two-year-old pups don't always pinpoint the exact location of the pythons, but they narrow down the search field significantly. And in some instances, their noses do lead them straight to the source.

After a successful search, the dogs are rewarded with their favorite toy--a ball. The reward-based training works by association, with the dogs essentially playing a game in order to get the ball at the end.

Many Keys residents are fearing the encroachment of Burmese pythons into the 113-mile paradise archipelago. Wildlife experts share concern for the endangered Key deer population that has already been affected by a recent screwworm outbreak.

But even though Floyd and Vito found pythons in the first part of the Florida Keys, significantly fewer were unearthed in comparison to the canine detectives' work in the Everglades, where the snake population stems.

This week will see the completion of the K9 Unit's assignment in southern Florida. Who knows what they'll be trained to sniff out next!

What do you think of this detection team? Let us know in the comments below!

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Canine Detectives Follow Their Noses to Help Control Invasive Pythons in Florida Keys