FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — Charlie 5 had no plans to move that hot June morning.
The 9-foot-long Burmese python was comfortably nestled in a muddy hollow, well-hidden in a thicket of saw grass and alligator flag in Big Cypress National Preserve.
His tracking device gave him away. He didn’t like it, but he had visitors.
“There he is,” said Austin Fitzgerald, a biological science technician with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), bending down within 18 inches of the steamy muck. “I can just barely see his head.”
Using two snake hooks, Fitzgerald and Jillian Josimovich, a biologist with the USGS invasive species science branch, persuaded the reluctant snake to come out of hiding.
It’s hard to read a snake’s body language, but Charlie 5 — writhing to free himself — clearly wished he had never met Fitzgerald and Josimovich.
The uninvited denizens of South Florida’s wildlands, woodlands, marshlands and swamplands have left an indelible — and possibly irreversible — mark on the ecosystem.
First identified in Everglades National Park in 2000, the Southeast Asian apex predator quickly put a stranglehold on Florida’s wildlife.
To a python, Florida’s rich biodiversity of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians is a veritable smorgasbord of delicacies.
According to the USGS, a 2012 study in Everglades National Park revealed pythons have contributed to these population declines:
- 99.3% fewer raccoons
- 98.9% fewer opossums
- 87.5% fewer bobcats
Foxes and marsh and cottontail rabbits have “effectively disappeared,” the study says.
As pythons eat their way across the Sunshine State’s landscape, there is strong evidence Florida’s bird, native snake and iconic alligator populations are also suffering.
What predators the python doesn’t eat are losing the competition for food, including bobcats and panthers. The hunters are simply too large and too efficient. They are at home in warm, wet, watery climates and can swim, burrow and climb trees.
About the only thing they can’t do is fly. ‘Super Snake’ Hybrids Breeding in Everglades
Researchers even believe pythons have swum across the open saltwater of Florida Bay from the Everglades to islands in the Florida Keys. Read more.