The objective of this project is to conduct radiotelemetric fieldwork to develop a database of movement behavior and habitat use of invasive Burmese pythons in Southwest Florida. This information will be used to develop a management strategy for this invasive reptile.
The Conservancy and its partners have been conducting radio-telemetry field work over the past three years to document python biology and behavior in Collier County.
Southwest Florida has a variety of upland habitats that are dissimilar to those typically used by pythons in the seasonally flooded marshes of the Everglades ecosystem. Data on seasonal movement behavior, reproductive biology, and habitat use are needed to understand the behavior of invasive Burmese pythons in Southwest Florida and to develop a management strategy to control this animal.
Adult Burmese pythons were captured, surgically implanted with radio-transmitters and released at capture sites. Pythons were tracked weekly and GPS locations and habit association were recorded.
The battery life of a transmitter was rated for two years and if an animal was still alive at this time it was re-captured and re-deployed to gain additional information on its behavior. If a tagged animal was found with another python and that animal was a useful candidate for study it was also tagged and tracked.
Tagged pythons are also referred to as “sentinel snakes” for their ability to lead researchers to other animals during the breeding season.
If a python was captured that did not have the ability to add useful information to the study it was humanely euthanized at a local veterinary office. All research animals will be humanely euthanized at the completion of the study.
Initially five large pythons were collected from the “road to nowhere” location in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in early 2013. To date, 20 adult pythons have been implanted with radio-transmitters and tracked at some duration since January 2013.
Animals were primarily captured and tracked from within conservation lands of eastern Collier County.
During the time of this ongoing study over 50 additional pythons were collected or captured and euthanized by the research partners. Furthermore, nine python nests were documented during the ongoing study and over 375 python eggs were removed and humanely euthanized.
The python tracking study has already yielded valuable insights into the seasonal movements of Burmese pythons in Southwest Florida and their preference for specific micro-habitat features on the landscape. Adult pythons appear to prefer subterranean refugia or burrows during specific portions of the year for either shelter from extreme temperatures or for breeding and egg laying behaviors.
Adult female pythons in this study have been found to lay their eggs in armadillo burrows, gopher tortoise burrows, abandoned culvert pipes and under dense mats of non-native grass.
On March 4, 2015 two radio tagged male pythons were found transmitting from the same gopher tortoise burrow in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The burrow was excavated and a total of 7 Burmese pythons were found to be breeding in one burrow.
There were 6 male pythons ranging in size from 7 feet to 12 feet in length and one gravid female python that was 13 feet in length and weighed 75 pounds. In one gopher tortoise burrow there were 7 snakes totaling 66 feet in length and weighing 220 pounds!
After excavation a gopher tortoise was found to be trapped in the back of the burrow, the animal was safely extracted and released and the burrow was recovered and still accessible for gopher tortoises.
Information collected from this study is on-going and is helping to devise a management strategy to capture and remove Burmese pythons from conservation lands in Southwest Florida. Data collected on movement, home range and seasonal habitat selection of this invasive animal inform scientists in their search to manage this large invasive reptile species that has tremendous ecological impact on the Greater Everglades system.
Conservancy scientists, in collaboration with research partners, have learned that Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) in Southwest Florida often make use of burrows constructed by large, native wildlife.
Florida Wildlife Commission and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida are working together to train natural resource workers, who may encounter Burmese pythons in the field, how to safely capture them.
The Kemp's ridley turtle is considered the most endangered sea turtle species in the world and also happens to be the most common sea turtle residing in the nearshore waters of Southwest Florida.
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