How Ex-Pet Burmese Pythons Are Invading the Everglades

Posted by Stacey Venzel
Florida Fish and Wildlife

Big snakes are eating away the diversity of Everglades National Park.

Exotic pets are thrilling to have in a household, but due to their unique care requirements, they often become unwanted. When there is no known shelter or Good Samaritan crazy neighborhood lady to take them in, owners often release them into the wild.

Many exotic pets come from tropical climates. Regions in Florida, especially the Everglades, provide ideal tropical climates for these ex-pets to thrive. Without any native predators, one pet can survive for decades, especially in the case of long-living reptiles.

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It only takes two to tango, so when an ex-pet male and female find each other, the population can explode. The Burmese python, one of the largest snakes in the world, is native to the wet, vegetative tropics of Southeast Asia, therefore considered an invasive species here in the U.S. They can reach lengths of 20 feet and 250 pounds.

While copulating ex-pets have made the invasive population abundant in the Everglades, the python is listed as vulnerable to extinction in its native land due to capture for harvest, medicinal use, and the illegal pet trade. The snake skin is found in textured leather.

The large number of pythons released in the southern United States has caused trophic cascades in Florida. Small mammal populations, like rabbits, have been extinguished in the Everglades. Raccoons, opossums, and even deer have also fallen prey to this invasive predator and are close to being regionally wiped out. Bird populations are declining, too.

Florida Fish and Wildlife
Florida Fish and Wildlife

Because of pet owners' readiness to release these animals into the wild, or an owner's inability to prevent a 20-foot snake from escaping, it is illegal to own one in Florida. Other reptile pets are also disrupting the marsh ecosystem, such as Nile monitors and the Argentine tegu. In the Florida Keys, iguanas are as abundant as squirrels in Ohio, though the reason for the iguana inundation may be linked to getting a ride on Caribbean cargo ships, in addition to ex-pets being released.

Since 2002, over 2,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades, but biologists are struggling to keep up with the growing numbers. Population estimates put the numbers in the Everglades upwards of 30,000. Though alligators occasionally bite down on pythons, pythons can also eat alligators--or at least put up a deadly fight.

That leaves humans to control the python invasion--ironically, the same predators that caused the problem in the first place.

How Ex-Pet Burmese Pythons Are Invading the Everglades