Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are nonvenomous snakes native to Southeast Asia. However, since the end of the 20th century, they have become an established breeding population in South Florida. The earliest python sightings in Florida date back to the 1930s and although Burmese pythons were first sighted in Everglades National Park in the 1990s, they were not officially recognized as a reproducing population until 2000. Since then, the number of python sightings has exponentially increased with over 30000 sightings from 2008 to 2010.
Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is "nocturnal",...
A carnivore meaning 'meat eater' is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of a...
Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land (e.g., cats, ants, snails), as compared with aquatic animals, which liv...
Arboreal locomotion is the locomotion of animals in trees. In habitats in which trees are present, animals have evolved to move in them. Some anima...
Ambush predators are carnivorous animals that capture or trap prey by stealth, luring, or by (typically instinctive) strategies utilizing an elemen...
An apex predator, also known as a top predator, is a predator at the top of a food chain and has no natural predators. These animals usually occup...
Brumation is a lethargic state that some ectothermic animals, such as many reptiles, assume during cold conditions. Reptiles generally begin brumat...
Oviparous animals are female animals that lay their eggs, with little or no other embryonic development within the mother. This is the reproductive...
Precocial species are those in which the young are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth or hatching. Precocial species are normall...
NoNot a migrant
Animals that do not make seasonal movements and stay in their native home ranges all year round are called not migrants or residents.
Florida Burmese pythons look much like the other Burmese pythons. These snakes are dark-colored and have many brown blotches bordered by black down the back. In the wild, Burmese pythons typically grow to 5 m (16 ft). Females average only slightly longer but are considerably heavier and bulkier than males.
Burmese pythons occur notably across South Florida, with the largest numbers now found in the Florida Everglades. By 2007, they were found in northern Florida and in the coastal areas of the Florida Panhandle. Within those areas, Burmese pythons prefer to select broad-leafed and low-flooded habitats. Broad-leafed habitats comprise cypress, overstory, and coniferous forest. Though aquatic marsh environments would be a great source of prey, the pythons seem to prioritize environments allowing for morphological and behavioral camouflage to be protected from predators. Also, Burmese pythons in Florida prefer elevated habitats, since this provides the optimal conditions for nesting. In addition to elevated habitats, edge habitats are common places where Burmese pythons are found for thermoregulation, nesting, and hunting purposes.
Burmese pythons are mainly nocturnal creatures. When young, they are equally at home on the ground and in trees, but as they gain girth, they usually spend most of their time on the ground. They are also excellent swimmers, being able to stay submerged for up to half an hour. Burmese pythons spend the majority of their time hidden in the underbrush. In Florida, Burmese pythons may brumate in a hollow tree, a hole in the riverbank, or under rocks. These giant snakes are solitary in their nature and are usually found in pairs only when mating. They are sit-and-wait predators, staying relatively still, waiting for prey to approach, then striking rapidly. Then pythons grab a prey animal with their sharp teeth, wrap their body around it to kill it through constriction, and then swallow their prey whole.
Florida Burmese pythons are apex predators within their range and have a variable carnivorous diet. They primarily eat a variety of small mammals including foxes, rabbits, and raccoons. They also eat birds and occasionally other reptiles. Exceptionally large pythons may even require larger food items such as pigs or goats and are known to have attacked and eaten alligators and adult deer in Florida.
Little information is known about the reproductive behavior of Florida Burmese pythons. A typical female breeds every other year, and produces a clutch of between 20 and 50 eggs. In general, female Burmese pythons remain with their eggs until they hatch, wrapping around them and twitching their muscles in such a way as to raise the ambient temperature around the eggs by several degrees. Once the hatchlings use their egg tooth to cut their way out of their eggs, no further maternal care is given. The newly hatched pythons often remain inside their eggs until they are ready to complete their first shedding of skin, after which they hunt for their first meal.
Due to the increase in the number of Florida Burmese pythons, the U.S. Department of the Interior has banned the importation of these snakes into the United States in January 2012. One of the most contentious issues related to the Burmese python population in Florida is the potential spread to other areas of the southern United States. Thus, several methods have been proposed to control the thriving Burmese python population in Florida including using dogs to detect pythons, trapping (a traditional method of snake capture), biocontrol or biological control, and hunting. In July 2020 the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that the 5000th python had been removed from the Everglades.
Although it is very difficult to estimate the total population size of the Florida Burmese python, most researchers propose that at least 1 million individuals likely occupy South Florida.
Burmese pythons in the state of Florida are classified as an invasive species. They disrupt the ecosystem, particularly the Everglades region (only 25% of the original Everglades remains, protected within Everglades National Park (ENP)) by preying on native species, outcompeting native species for food or other resources, and/or disrupting the physical nature of the environment. They are comparable in size or even larger than adult native snake species and quickly reach sizes that reduce their vulnerability to predation. Additionally, as apex predators and dietary generalists, Burmese pythons target a wide array of taxonomic groups. The flexible dietary requirements of Burmese pythons enable them to survive for long periods of time without food, but when prey is readily available, they will eat regularly. Consequently, Burmese pythons pose a great threat to wildlife, especially mid-sized mammals. Unlike their native South Asian counterparts who spend long periods fasting due to seasonal variation in prey availability, pythons in Florida feed year-round due to the constant availability of food. A 2012 report stated, "in areas where the snakes are well established, foxes, and rabbits have disappeared. Sightings of raccoons are down by 99.3%, opossums by 98.9%, and white-tailed deer by 94.1%." Road surveys between 2003 and 2011 indicated an 87.3% decrease in bobcat populations, and in some areas, rabbits have not been detected at all. Bird and coyote populations may be threatened, as well as the already-rare Florida panther. By 2011, researchers identified up to 25 species of birds from nine avian orders in the digestive tract remains of 85 Burmese pythons found in Everglades National Park. Native bird populations are suffering a negative impact from the introduction of the Burmese python in Florida; among these bird species, the Wood stork is of specific concern, now listed as federally endangered.