We must do everything we can to rid the Everglades of all invasive plant and animal species. That’s a seemingly impossible task at this point for the supposed invasive species capitol of the world. We must also prevent the importation and introduction of any new species to protect the currently out of whack balance of South Florida’s ecosystem. Having said that, I am enraged by the ignorant media coverage regarding the “big snakes” in the Everglades. In December of 2011 an article titled “Severe mammal declines coincide with proliferation of invasive Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park” was published and the media-led hysteria that followed offered tabloid style headlines that fed into people’s natural fears.
“Pythons Rule Florida’s Everglades”
“Pythons and Anacondas Dominate Food Chain”
“Burmese Pythons Picking Florida’s Everglades Clean”
“Pythons have stranglehold on Everglades”
A local NBC anchor suggested without a trace of skepticism that the population of the invasive giants was well over 200,000. This is a stunning climb up the food chain from a few years ago when the estimate was 9,000, then 15,000, 30,000 and then inexplicably 150,000. Now 200,000 plus? Stop it.
Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are endangered in their native Southeast Asian range, thanks to poaching and exportation for the pet trade. People buy them as pets because they’re cuddly or they’re constricting. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. They get to be big, growing to lengths over 20 feet. Eventually they’re the ideal pet they once were and owners dump them in the Everglades. Many were thought to have escaped into the swamp in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, Florida, home of many reptile breeders and importers.
The scientific paper that has flamed the frenzy claimed that Northern Raccoons (Procyon lotor), Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) and bobcat sightings (both live and road kill) are down about 99% from a period of time that predated the python infestation. Now one of the co-authors is distancing himself from the suggestion that pythons are to blame. He says it’s possible, but he blames the media for drawing a correlation between the two.
They did note that top predators like the Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) and Coyote (Canis latrans) (an Everglades new comer), populations had increased but did not suggest that they could be culprits in the population declines of prey species such as raccoons and opossums. Nor did they mention the severe drought the Everglades National Park has experienced and what effect that might have on the need for certain species to seek out better habitat.
The analysis of the scientific paper was lacking and the media did not do their due diligence to understand the entire issue. The shocking headline was enough to craft an exciting tale of reptile Armageddon. I’ll explain more about the biology of the pythons, the threat they pose and what we need to do to stop it. Next week.