Native to southeastern Asia, the Burmese, python, Python bivittatus, has certainly earned quite the reputation in south Florida. Though this species was recorded in Everglades National Park as far back in the 1980s, their real growth and expansion followed Hurricane Andrew in 1992. By the year 2000, they were classified as established and reproducing. Today, the Burmese python serves as a significant ecological burden and risk to native wildlife — including native reptiles and mammals.
In their native range, Burmese pythons average around twelve feet in length. In Florida, however, adults only average between six and nine feet in length, or so. The record in Florida is 17 feet. Impressive. Though they are non-venomous, the size and strength of the Burmese python, along with their adaptability and hardiness, poses a unique and significant ecological challenge to Florida’s native eco-matrix. Attempts to eradicate the species from south Florida have thus far been somewhat fruitless. Though countless individuals have been collected and “expired” (if you will), the sheer vastness and difficulty of the Everglades ecosystems certainly provide the Burmese pythons with innumerable advantages. I’m afraid the burden will be on native organisms to adapt to their new competitor. I’m not sure there’s anything people can do to eradicate the species at this point.
Burmese pythons can be considered semi-aquatic. They are often found near bodies of water (which the Everglades has plenty of) and prey on mammals and large reptiles (which the Everglades used to have more of). They are also exceedingly excellent at hiding in otherwise plain sight. You could easily walk right past a seven foot python adjacent to US 41 without ever realizing it’s hiding a few short feet away. Most individuals that have been collected or photographed were somewhat close to roads and pathways. If you look at a map of the Everglades system, you’ll realize roads are rare and sparse in that region… I can’t even imagine how many Burms live out a full life without ever making contact with a person.
The individual featured on this post is a youngster found crossing a road. Even as juveniles, Burmese pythons are impressive and quite able to compete with Florida’s native wildlife.
If you’d like to learn more about Burmese pythons in Florida (and what to do if you encounter one), check out the FWC’s Burmese Python page.