Overwhelmed by Python Infestation, Florida Embraces Cagey Solution

Will traps specially designed for pythons bring any relief to snake-ravaged Florida?
Photo: Getty Images
Oct 11, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Florida wildlife officials have had little success reducing the burgeoning local populations of Burmese pythons, but they sure aren’t giving up any time soon.

After myriad solutions have proved largely ineffective against the invasive species, the state is—once again—deploying a new weapon: Traps engineered specifically for pythons.

Two separate triggers need to be tripped simultaneously for the five-foot long, galvanized steel device to close. Officials said this fail-safe feature should keep the trap from closing on native snakes like the shorter eastern diamondback rattlesnake or the water moccasin.

In the next few months, officials at the Gainesville field station for the National Wildlife Research Center will test the device in an enclosure housing five pythons. To lure the snakes, officials will bait the traps with scents of the snakes’ prey—the state’s small mammals. If the devices prove effective, the plan is to then move them to the wild sometime next year. “There’s still more to be learned, there’s still more to be tested,” said John Humphrey, a biologist at the NWRC.

The Everglades has become an immense breeding ground for the Burmese python, with an estimated 150,000 of the slithering giants thriving in the warm waters, lush swamplands, and saw grasses that dominate the peninsula’s southern reach.

“There’s nothing stopping them, the native wildlife are in trouble,” Kenneth Krysko, of the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the AP last year when a 17-foot, 7-inch specimen was caught and killed. That record-setter has since been eclipsed by a 19-foot, 128-pound specimen, killed in May.

Native to South Asia, the snakes first came to Florida in the 1980s as part of the exotic pet trade. The infestation began, officials surmise, when pets were released into the wild, either intentionally or on accident when they may have slithered out of Miami-area pet stores after Hurricane Andrew ransacked the city in 1992.

In early 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the "importation and interstate transportation" of African rock pythons, Burmese pythons, and the yellow anaconda. But people in the United States and Canada can still own the snakes with special permits.

Voracious, unscrupulous eaters, the snakes are decimating the state’s small mammals. A January 2012 study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that Florida’s raccoon population had fallen 99.3 percent, opossum by 98.9 percent, and bobcat by 87.5 percent between 2003 and 2011.

State officials have since gotten quite creative in their attempt to exterminate the unwanted visitors.

They’ve enlisted the help of python-sniffing dogs, held python-hunting contests, and even supported turning the critters into handbags.

By and large, these silver bullets have missed the mark. Perhaps the new python trap will have better aim. Stay tuned.