Everything You Need to Know About Invasive Burmese Pythons

Pythons Are Amazing Animals.

Having a deeper knowledge of these snakes is critical—not only to fully understand why hunting them in Florida is so important but also to cultivate deeper respect for their beauty, strength and dignity. Here are some answers to the frequently asked questions along with some more interesting information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Burmese Pythons in Florida?

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center identifies an invasive species as: A plant, animal or microbe that is alien to an ecosystem and whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Burmese pythons are originally from Southeast Asia. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew demolished a python breeding facility and sent about 900 pythons into the same general area of the Everglades. This was the epicenter of the invasion. People who bought them as pets, and then let them go when they became too big to feed, house and handle, has also contributed to the problem.

Today, there are an estimated 100k to 300k (possibly over 500k) pythons in south Florida. It takes a python three years to reach ten feet, during which time it eats approximately 200 mammals, birds and reptiles. Pythons live for 25 years! Multiply that by the number of pythons in south Florida and it’s clear why they need to be removed. While they will never be completely eradicated, each python we take out of the glades saves the lives of so many native animals. It’s a slow process, but if we are persistent, we may see the mammal population bounce back and keep the python population to a minimum.

Why do we need to get rid of Burmese Pythons in Florida?

Being the apex predators in the Everglades, the pythons are at the top of the food chain with voracious appetites and no predators. In certain areas of South Florida, 98% of the mammals are gone because of the pythons. These giant snakes prey on squirrels, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, alligators, wading birds, bobcats, and even deer. They also eat many protected or endangered animals such as the Key Largo woodrat, wood stork, mangrove fox squirrel, and others.

One 16 foot python ate a doe and two fawns, one after another, in the same feeding!

The threat the invasive pythons pose to the Florida ecosystem is very real, but the full extent is still unknown. The effects of the presence of an apex predator can be wide ranging and unpredictable. An apex predator can influence the behavior of prey and literally change the habitat and landscape. At this time, we have no idea if or how pythons are influencing the behavior of alligators, birds, or any other native species. We may not be able to see the effects for decades.

How big do Burmese Pythons get?

Burmese pythons can potentially reach 20 feet in length. The record for Florida is 19 feet. They can weigh up to 250 lbs. The average python caught is 6-9 feet long, weighing 10-35 lbs.

Will Burmese Pythons eat people or pets?

Pythons will absolutely eat pets if given the opportunity. There have been quite a few documented cases of dogs and cats being eaten in their own backyard. They are usually from properties on the outskirts of town or in rural areas. A 14 foot python can eat a full grown Golden Retriever.

Fortunately, people are not on the menu for the pythons. Humans aren’t viewed as a prey item. There have been no documented cases of wild pythons eating or attempting to eat adults or children in Florida. They will bite if they are being caught or harassed, but it is a defensive strike so it’s very quick. They don’t bite and hold on—they just want to get away.

Are pythons venomous?

No, pythons are not venomous. They are constrictors, which means they suffocate their prey by wrapping around them. When the prey is dead, the python will eat the animal or bird whole, starting from the head.

Do pythons have teeth?

Pythons have a mouthful of very long and razor sharp teeth. Even though they aren’t venomous, the bites can be painful and draw a lot of blood.

How many Burmese Pythons are in Florida?

It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 300,000 pythons in south Florida, but now biologists think it may be more than 500,000. Because most of the habitat is essentially inaccessible to humans, there is no real way of knowing the actual number. A female python lays an average of 20-40 eggs per year. Some of the bigger pythons that are 15+feet can easily lay over 100 eggs per year.

Why are Burmese Pythons so hard to find?

It is nearly impossible to see pythons in their habitat for a few reasons. They are so incredibly camouflaged that even a 17 foot python blends right in. They lay under the thick brush or in other animals’ burrows. It is nearly impossible for a person who is just walking through the swamp or the woods to come across a python. Pythons spend 85% of their time not moving, so there is a very small window of activity for them to be seen.

Most of the pythons are caught in the summer at night when they are on the move. They cross roads and levees and the python hunters can catch them.

What is their territory?

Python territory is 3.5 million acres. They have been found as far north as the lower part of Lake Okeechobee, as far east as Biscayne Bay, as far west as the western edge of Naples and as far south as the southern tip of Florida.

Can they be eradicated?

Unfortunately, no. Their territory is roughly 3.5 million acres, most of which is inaccessible to humans. Scientists are constantly studying and testing new methods that will make eradication faster and easier. As of now, professional python hunters are the most effective way to slowly remove the pythons from the Everglades, one at a time.

Is there any alternative to euthanizing them?

While it may seem that the ideal solution would be to capture these pythons and relocate them to their native home in Southeast Asia, that would be impossible. Obviously, there is an incredible cost to this idea. But even more importantly, the Burmese Python population could harbor dangerous parasites and viruses that could endanger the Southeast Asian population. Ultimately, introducing massive numbers of pythons could do to that ecosystem what it has done in Florida—disrupt the balance of nature in Asia.

Why haven't pythons eaten all of the mammals in Asia?

Asia is home to the King Cobra, a venomous snake that reaches lengths of 16 feet. The cobra’s main diet is other snakes, most of which are pythons. The cobra is the main predator of the Burmese and Reticulated Pythons in Asia, so the pythons’ numbers are kept in check and the ecosystem stays balanced. There are no King Cobras in Florida (thankfully) so there is no natural population control of the invasive pythons.

Asian Pythons versus Invasive Burmese Pythons

While both of these species are native to the same part of Asia, they are distinct snakes with many important differences. Here is the main difference:

  • Asian pythons are raised on python farms and are bred specifically to be slaughtered for their hides.
  • Burmese Pythons are an invasive species that are destroying the South Florida ecosystem. They have contributed to the eradication of up to 99.3% of the native mammal population, according to the USGS.

However, there’s more to the story...

The majority of python skins that are used in the fashion industry are reticulated pythons from Asia. They have a diamond or triangular pattern. The invasive pythons found in Florida are Burmese Pythons, with a puzzle piece like pattern. Even though both species are native to the same part of Asia, it’s only the Burmese Pythons that have established their second home in Florida. This is because Burmese Pythons were a very popular pet due to their docile and friendly nature. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed a python breeding facility and sent about 900 Burmese Pythons into the same general area in the Everglades. In addition, pet owners released pythons that became too big to handle, feed and house, so they let them go. This was a contributor, but not the main reason for the problem today.

The Reticulated Pythons that the big fashion names use, are raised on python farms specifically bred to be slaughtered for their skin. Almost all of the companies that dominate the fashion world now have their own python farms. The size, patterns and colors can all be controlled to a degree so all of the products look relatively the same.

The invasive Burmese Pythons all have an incredible array of pattern and color variations, so literally, not one product is ever exactly the same. In the breeding world, the most unique patterns and colors make the most money. Since the Burmee Python population came from released pets and a mass breeder, these pythons carry genes that create crazy patterns and all different colors in their offspring. While you can always tell it’s a Burmese Python, no pattern is the same and the colors can vary from incredibly light to very dark with different shades of coloring across the board. No one product from any of these pythons is ever going to be the same. That means that whichever product you buy, no one else in the world will ever have the same one.

The other really big difference is that the Asian farm-raised pythons have no wounds, scars, or skin imperfections. This is because they are housed in enclosures with no threat from any other animal that could do potential harm and cause damage to the skin of the python. In addition, they are fed a diet of fresh, but already dead animals so there is no risk of the food item scratching or biting the python that could damage the skin.

Even though the Burmese Pythons are the apex predators, they still get attacked by alligators, panthers, bobcats, wild boars, and bears. When a python coils around its prey, the prey will do anything to attempt to free itself, including biting and scratching the snake. This also leaves wounds and scars. The pythons have many battle wounds that have healed and left scars. Some have actually left holes in the skin.

To get a product with a battle wound scar is absolutely remarkable and sought after. It’s a great story to tell. Think about it, if you have a product that is made out of python skin with an alligator bite scar, how cool is that!?