Pythons have always been a problem in the Everglades, but the issue has worsened because the Burmese python has bred with the Indian python, creating a hybrid that can survive on land and water.
Researchers are unsure about how these pythons came together, but many assume someone bought these exotic snakes and let them go when they became too large.
“The reason we have these ‘super snakes’ is likely due to someone purchasing snakes, but then choosing to release them to the wild when they get too big,” said Sonya Rood, commissioner at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “This causes them to venture off and come into contact with other dangerous species.”
A Burmese python is a large reptile that stretches more than 15 feet, whereas Indian pythons are much smaller and quicker. Now that there is a combination of the two pythons, more areas can be covered, allowing this species to spread throughout Florida.
“Indian pythons are not common in south Florida due to the high moisture levels. I feel they were bred somewhere north and started to migrate south eventually,” said Rood.
Not only does the Everglades have to combat this new species, but it also has to handle the growing python population in general. Of the 100 pythons living in the Everglades, 14 have the genetic makeup of both Burmese and Indian python, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“The problem that we continue to deal with is that all these pythons are uniquely the same,” said Michael Kordsmeier, Everglades park ranger. “We have no method to identify which pythons are mixed, making our job ten times more difficult.”
The Everglades play a crucial role in supplying water to the Miami area, but it needs certain resources to produce clean and clear water. Pythons will eat anything from small bugs to Florida panthers, with each of these species playing an essential role in the Everglades. Now that these pythons are mixed, their diets will spread even further and restrict the quality of water moving forward.
“Every living thing has a role in keeping the Everglades flowing. When you have pythons taking away resources, they are merely diminishing the Everglades,” said Gil McRae, director at Florida Wildlife Research Institute. “There are many rare organisms that populate the Everglades. When you have a python that can travel through land and sea, it creates an imbalance in the ecosystem.”
The question now becomes what happens next for this invasive species roaming across south Florida. With state officials already hiring professionals to aid in the extraction process, it seems it is only a matter of time until either the pythons or the community at-large wins this environmental battle.