Florida has more nonnative reptiles and amphibians than anywhere else in the world with more than 60 that are established and breeding. South Florida has a subtropical climate, island-like geography (water on three sides, frost to the north), major ports of trade which provide plants and animals entry into the United States, thriving trade in exotic pets, and occasional destructive hurricanes which increases risk of escapes.
Africa’s largest snake, the African rock python, are breeding in a small area of south Florida (estimated 6 square miles of land). The African rock python has a thick, long body, which is patterned in blotches that range from brown, olive, and yellow-toned tan, which form irregular stripes and chunky-block pattern. It has a triangular head and many sharp, backwardly curved teeth, and is covered in small smooth scales. Around the mouth are heat-sensitive pits, which are used to detect warm-blooded prey, even in the dark. African rock pythons are found throughout almost the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Namibia and South and western Africa.
Image: Edward Mercer, a non-native wildlife technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, holds a North African Python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015 in Miami, Florida (Image source: Jan. 28, 2015 - Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
FWC In Florida, these snakes are a high priority species for management due to their large size and because of the extensive invasion of a similar species, the Burmese Python. They are very difficult to find, so determining how many north African rock pythons are present within the area is challenging.
Detection for the Burmese Python is between 0.005 and 0.01, and if we assume north African pythons are similar, then we would need over 300 visits to the area with no observations of pythons before it could be concluded with 95% confidence that the north African rock python population is not expanding.
There are efforts being carried out by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of Florida (UF) to research and remove the north African rock pythons from the wild in Florida. Biologists from FWC and UF, along with South Florida Water Management, and a handful of other organizations conduct surveys each week to locate these snakes. This year alone there have been two live captures of the African pythons, and one dead-on-arrival python which was run over with a commercial grade lawn mower. Recently, this species has been completely banned in the state of Florida, which means no new animals can be imported or exported from the state. Removal efforts have been in place since the first python sightings occurred in 2001, and banning this species will help keep these pythons from becoming as big a nuisance as the Burmese python.
More information on the Northern African rock python can be found by following the links below:
FWC Pest Brochure
Sun Sentinel News Article
What is EIRAMP?
This Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Program (EIRAMP) was developed as a method for monitoring the spread of exotic species in southern Florida. South Florida is prone to invasion by nonnative species due to its sub-tropical climate; mosaic of agricultural, natural, and urban habitats; and island-like geography being surrounded by water on three sides and freezing temperatures to the north. The state of Florida alone currently hosts more established alien reptiles than any other state or nation (Meshaka et al. 2004). The natural portions of land are under increasing pressure from invasion by nonnative species, and current methods of interception and eradication of invaders has not been able to match the increasing threats.
Prevention of the introduction of invasive species is the best defense against invasions. Followed by the early detection of invaders and rapid response efforts towards their removal. Once populations are established and wide=spread the option for management becomes limited and expensive. Surveying current habitat for native amphibians, reptiles, and mammals alongside invasive species aids in determining the impact exotic species have in southern Florida. This monitoring program was developed to establish the status and spread of existing populations of invasive reptiles and amphibians, provides early detection and rapid response for removal of invasive species, and to provide information on the invasive animals collected while surveying.
The areas being surveyed have potential for detection of nonnative amphibians, reptiles, and mammals; there are currently 22 areas, with potential for additions if there are particular areas of concern. The surveys conducted once a month, within 30 minutes of sunset. While driving or walking, animal species that are observed are identified and recorded on a data sheet. This information, along with the GPS location, habitat type (parking lot, tree, road, etc.), and the number of individuals observed. Invasive animals (primarily Burmese Pythons) are removed when encountered.
Environmental information including time of night, temperature, humidity, and general weather (rainy, clear, cloudy) are also recorded. At the end of each survey the data recorded is entered into a computer database. Once in the database, all of the surveys can be sorted through. For example, I could ‘search’ for every animal seen under “cloudy” conditions; or for every “Burmese Python” that was encountered.
What Do We Learn?
All of the information recorded during these surveys is put towards management plans and other scientific studies. All of the categories of information can be analyzed for patterns. For example: Looking at temperature and species, we may see a pattern in what animals are seen at certain temperatures; or time of night; or weather...see what I'm saying? This information can then be used to supplement management plans for the removal or control of invasive animals; it can also be used to monitor the populations of native animals. If we see an increase in Burmese Python sightings over the years, and a decrease in the sighting of native snakes, it may imply that Burmese Python presence is influencing the presence of native snakes. This is very important information, especially when threatened species are involved.
The most important part of these surveys are the number of surveys carried out. The more surveys conducted over several years, the more information and patterns may emerge. Data from 2012 compared to data from 2017 may reveal shocking differences in the the number of invasive species encounters, or in the type of native species encountered (more mammals than reptiles?); it even can show a change in the weather or temperature over time (very wet or dry year; hot or colder?). All of this data is ever growing, and it is never going to become irrelevant. The more we know, the more we can do to help stop invasive animals from spreading.
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Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!