Python invasion has exploded out of the Everglades and into nearly all of southern Florida, new map shows

Bill Kearney, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Outdoors

Burmese pythons are too good at what they do — they’re nearly undetectable to both humans and their prey, they barely need to move and when they do they’re deadly. On top of that, they have lots of babies.

As a result, according to an ambitious new paper produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, their population has exploded in only 20 years from a few snakes at the southern tip of Everglades National Park to an invasion that envelops the southern third of Florida.

The reptile’s “invasion front” has recently rolled through Broward and Palm Beach counties and is moving up the state. The current front encompasses the southern end of Lake Okeechobee and is pushing westward north of Fort Myers.

The study, which meticulously synthesizes several decades’ worth of findings from more than 250 research initiatives, assesses where we stand in the python invasion and how we might slow it.

The success of these snakes, which are native to Southeast Asia, and came here via the exotic pet trade, has been a cataclysmic failure for South Florida ecosystems and “represent one of the most intractable invasive-species management issues across the globe,” said the paper.

To put it simply, the snakes are very much on the move, butting up against civilization and heading north — how far it will go depends on several factors, including climate change.


History of an invasion

In the 1970s, Burmese pythons, which are admittedly beautiful, dappled in a rich pattern of mahogany, coffee and taupe, became all the rage in the exotic pet trade. Snakes from Thailand and Myanmar began showing up more and more in the States, including South Florida.

By the end of the decade, there was evidence that some of the snakes were living in Everglades National Park. In 1979, a python measuring more than 12 feet was run over on Tamiami Trail, and there was a spate of unconfirmed sightings in the southwest section of the park through the 1980s.

It wasn’t until 1995, though, that biologists officially documented and collected two snakes — a 7-foot adult and, tellingly, a hatchling — near West Lake at the southern tip of the peninsula.


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