Projects and Research
Pythons and Python Management in South Florida
Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are large constrictor snakes native to Southeast Asia that have been introduced to southern Florida through the exotic pet trade. Pythons have likely been established in Florida since the 1980s and are currently distributed over a vast area of public and private lands, crossing multiple jurisdictions south of Lake Okeechobee to the Upper Keys and from the east and west coast of Florida. By far, the areas of the Everglades to the south and southwest of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) have the greatest concentration of pythons. Pythons are a threat to native ecosystems, human health and safety, Everglades restoration efforts, and more. Their impacts include direct depredation of native wildlife, competition for resources, and introduction of novel pathogens and parasites. A scientific publication noted a 90% decrease in mammal populations seen on wildlife surveys in Everglades National Park, likely the result of predation by pythons. Despite control efforts undertaken by land managers and partners since the early 2000s, the python population continues to expand in Florida.
Florida Python Control Plan
To better manage the continued expansion of the Burmese python population, 15 State, Federal and local agencies, Tribes, and one non-governmental organization embarked on a three-year collaborative effort to develop a management plan for Burmese pythons; the Florida Python Control Plan(FPCP). The FPCP stresses the importance of a unified approach and adaptive management strategy to control invasive Burmese pythons. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceis an active partner in the FPCP Working Group, and supports the objectives and action items detailed in the plan.
Python Contractor Removal Programs
Although only one Burmese python has been officially recovered on the Refuge, over 21,000 pythons have been removed from the Florida ecosystem since the mid-1990s. In 2017, in response to the threat to native wildlife especially to threatened and endangered species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) established two paid contractor removal programs, the Python Action Teams Removing Invasive Constrictors and the Python Elimination Program respectively. Under these two unified programs, contractors receive an hourly ‘search’ rate plus an incentive payment for each snake removed based upon the length of the python. Contractors also receive a bonus payment for finding a python nest containing eggs. These two programs alone have combined to remove over 13,000 pythons on the Everglades landscape since their creation.
Refuge Python Control Efforts
Over the last five years the Refuge has increased its monitoring efforts for invasive Burmese pythons in response to the increasing number of reports. Refuge biologists have installed real-time camera traps on 20 tree islands in the refuge marsh interior to detect the presence or absence of native mammals and other wildlife including pythons. If, for example, the numbers of mammals detected by cameras on tree islands steadily or significantly decreases over time, it could indicate that the python population on the Refuge is increasing. Starting in 2021, the Refuge hired interns specifically to conduct python surveys on Refuge lands and levees and, if necessary, to respond rapidly to reports of large constrictors on the Refuge and on adjacent lands. In June of 2022, a verbal agreement was established with FWC and the SFWMD permitting their paid python contractors to access eight south Florida NWRs including the Refuge to survey for and remove pythons. As of January 1, 2024, no additional pythons have been removed on the Refuge.
For more information on Burmese pythons and python management in south Florida, please visit the Florida Python Control Planwebsite.