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How To Eradicate Pythons? Get Them ‘To Come To Us,’ Expert Says

Close-up image of a coiled Burmese python.
"Burmese pythons are found primarily in and around the Everglades ecosystem in south Florida where the snake represents a threat to native wildlife," according to the FWC. Credit/Conservancy of Southwest Florida

The Burmese python has come a long way from once being a beloved household pet, to now a top predator in Florida's wild.

A study on Florida's east coast shows these invasive snakes have decimated the small mammal population in the Everglades. An expert in python research says warming temperatures could be a factor in their rise. 

Kathy Worley with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida told WUSF's Jessica Meszaros about a method for research and eradication. 

Worley: What you do is you put a transmitter in a male python, and it will lead you to a bunch of females. Because basically, for population control, it's all about the ladies. You've got to get the females out of the population, because those are the ones that are going to breed. So we use the males against them. 

Meszaros: Pythons are such a big issue in the state of Florida that multiple organizations and agencies are all trying to tackle this invasion. Do you all work together?

Worley: Federal, state, universities, nonprofits-- anybody who's working in the field of pythons, we have all been working together. We're actually working on a interagency python management plan that is headed up by (The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) because this is a problem that knows no boundaries.

We all have to work together. We have to share research. We're sharing methodologies - what works where. It's a good opportunity for emerging science because this program is very expensive to run because you're having to put people out in the field, either tracking (pythons) or hunting them or whatever method each organization is using, and that requires a lot of effort.

If we can come up with a way to actually get the pythons to come to us, that would be the best scenario and there's science that is cutting edge, it is working on this program to try to make it more efficient at removal of these animals. 

Meszaros: What is it about Florida that makes it such a hotbed for an invasive species, like Burmese pythons, to easily run rampant?

Worley: They love warm weather - warm, humid weather, actually, and that's what we've got. The other thing is that we're tightening down on some controls now, which is good, but we've been a primary pet importer. The pet trade is big here.


Meszaros: Are researchers thinking about a correlation between invasive species in Florida and climate change? As temperatures climb, are they thriving more so here?

Worley: It's discussed but there's no research that has been published on that yet and that is sort of a lingering question in the scientific community that needs to be answered.

Meszaros: What's the conversation like with researchers about the future of Florida when it comes to an invasive species like Burmese pythons?

Worley: You can either be pessimistic about this saying we'll never get a hold of the problem, you can be optimistic and say, you know we'll eradicate. But for me personally, what I think is that we're going to be somewhere in the middle. We're going to be managing them. They're not going to run rampant over us, but I believe we will have a difficult time eradicating them. I believe we will always be chasing some invasive species, whether it's a plant or an animal.

Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.
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