The impact of Burmese pythons on Florida’s native biodiversity

Literature Review

Southern Florida is famous for its subtropical climate and warmth. Although the region has developed a lot in recent years, there is still enough land left to accommodate thousands of animals and plants. Historically, Southern Florida has been home to diverse native species but lately, it has been invaded by native species that are proving hard to control (Carmichael & Williams, 2006).

In the last few years, Python molurus bivittatus, popularly known as the Burmese python, has gained a lot of attention in Southern Florida. Managing the python’s population has proved futile and although its population is not supported well by existing scientific studies, so far more than 1,000 pythons have already been isolated from this region (Barker & Barker, 2008).

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Burmese pythons are mainly known to inhabit mangroves, lowlands, subtropical and tropical habitants within an area of 1200 meters. The pythons are overly dependent on bodies of water and wetlands and this remains by far their single most limiting factor (Baker & Baker, 2008).

Hundreds of native wildlife species have found a home in Florida’s Everglades National Park. In addition, the non-native Burmese pythons, which now scientists claim are a danger to native species, have established themselves in the national park.

For the first time, scientists have undertaken a detailed analysis with a view to determining how the Burmese pythons could impact on a number of endangered native birds in Florida. They are also determined to assess the avian component of the Burmese python’s diet. Records show that the Burmese pythons moved to the Everglades from its native Southeast Asia region in 1979 (Baker & Baker, 2008).

Over the years, the species has increased in number and it is now estimated that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the region. Scientists from the South Florida Natural Resource Center, the Smithsonian institute and the University of Florida have undertaken studies to assess the predation behavior of the Burmese pythons on birds in the area. According to the findings, birds make up about 25 percent of the Burmese python’s diet.

These birds include the endangered species as well (Dove et al, 2011, p. 127). Dove et al further contends that since the birds had not evolved in tandem with the Burmese python as a predator, in this respect, the python poses a great danger to the pollution of native birds within the region.

Between 2003 and 2008, a total of 343 Burmese python were collected by scientist in Everglades National Park. In their studies, the revealed that the intestinal tracts of eighty five of the collected Burmese pythons contained bird remains. Using the collection specimen of bone fragments and feathers from the Smithsonian institute, the study identified more than 25 species of birds (Dove et al, 2011).

Some of the varieties of birds revealed by the study include the limpkin and little blue heron. The two species are endangered. The study also identified the remains of another endangered species- the wood stork. The Burmese python is a real threat to conservation and control efforts because of its high reproduction rate.

In addition, it consumes different species of birds and also tends to live longer (Dove et al, 2011, p. 127). The widespread and rapid invasion that characterizes the Burmese python is also believed to have been caused by its ability to adapt to diverse habitats, ability to move long distances, as well as a broader dietary preference (Snow et al, 2007).

In comparison with the hatchlings of native species, those of the Burmese python tend to be much larger. They are also less susceptible to attacks by predators. Consequently, they can effectively compete with other predators for habitat, space, and food (Gibbons, 2011). There is a looming danger following the release of the pythons in the region since it is able to thrive in the Everglades, with its undisturbed and vast habitats.

Although a larger population of the Burmese python is thought to occupy the ENP area, they have also been found to occupy more remote and new locations (Harvey et al, 2011). As competitors and predators, Burmese pythons remain a great threat to the wildlife within the South Florida region. A rising wild population of the Burmese pythons can cause great ecological problems in the region and also hinder efforts to successfully conserve the wildlife in the greater Everglades.

Because Burmese pythons are excellent swimmers there is a growing concern that they could invade the Florida Keys area that is known to be biologically vulnerable. The dietary habits of the Burmese python also pose danger to indigo snakes as they compete for food. The federal and state governments have both identified this particular species as endangered (Reed, 2005, p. 256).

There are also concerns that the human safety could be at risk. Although there lacks evidence to show that the species hunt humans, nonetheless, a number of Burmese python owners are believed to have been killed by these skins while in captive. There is also the danger that large Burmese snakes may stretch across the roads, thereby endangering the lives of motorists.

Reference List

Barker, D. G., & Barker, T. M. (2008).The Distribution of the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus. Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc, 43(3):33–38.

Carmichael, P., & Williams, W. (2006). Florida’s Fabulous Reptiles and Amphibians. Tenth edition. Hawaiian Gardens, CA: World Publications

Dove, C.J., Snow, R.W., Rochford, M.R., & Mazzotti, F. J. (2011). Birds consumed by the invasive Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA. Wilson J. Ornithol. 123(1):126-131.

Gibbons, J. (2011). Invasive Burmese pythons are taking a toll on Florida’s native birds. Retrieved Nov ember 04, 2011, from http://smithsonianscience.org/2011/03/burmese-pythons-are-taking-a-toll-on-floridas-native-birds

Harvey, R. G., Brien, M. L., Cherkiss, M., Dorcas, M., Rochford, M., Snow, R. W., &

Mazzoti, F. J. (2008). Burmese pythons in South Florida: scientific support for invasive species management. Retrieved November 04, 2011, from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw286

Reed, R. N. (2005). An ecological risk assessment of nonnative boas and pythons as potentially invasive species in the United States. Risk Analysis, 25(3):753-7

Snow, R. W., Brien, M. L., Cherkiss, M. S., Wilkins, L., & Mazzotti, F. J. (2007). Dietary

habits of Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus, from Everglades National Park, Florida. Herpetological Bulletin, 101:5-7

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