For the first time, Florida wildlife officials have found Burmese pythons breeding in the Florida Keys, bad news for disappearing Key Largo woodrats, cotton mouses and other small mammals consumed by the voracious snake.
On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that in August, three hatchlings were found over three weeks in Key Largo. They are the first hatchlings documented in the area and suggest the exotic snakes that have spread across marshes on the mainland are now reproducing in the area.
“While we have documented Burmese pythons in the Keys for a while now, this is the first time we have documentation of hatchlings,” FWC supervisor Kriston Sommers said in a statement. “This is not surprising considering the proximity to the known breeding populations in the Everglades.”
Pythons first began appearing in the Everglades in the 1980s, likely freed by unhappy pet owners, and by 2000 had become established. Since 2000, the park has bagged about 2,000 of the hard-to-find snakes.
The snakes have been blamed for driving down the population of raccoons, rabbits and other small mammals in the park. Last year, a new study concluded they had taken over as the top predator in the region. The South Asian snakes are also adept at altering habits to live in their swampy new home, inhabiting more diverse environments than in their native territory that has allowed them to spread, according to a five-year study completed by the U.S. Geological Survey last year.
In an effort to stop the Key Largo population, wildlife officials said Tuesday they would begin sending postcards to residents alerting them to the snake and asking for help in tracking them down. Anyone who spots a python is asked to report it to the state hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 or online at www.IveGot1.org.
“This information will ultimately help all of the agencies involved focus our research and control efforts in areas where python densities are highest,” said USGS biologist Brian Falk. “We worry about pythons becoming established in the Keys because there are several at-risk populations of small mammals...that would be easy prey.”
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