ORLANDO, Fla. - Researchers have found a new way to help curb the exploding Burmese python population in Florida. They’re doing it by tracking smaller animals that the snakes eat.
"It wasn’t originally about the python," said Kelly Crandall, a master's student at Southern Illinois University.
Researchers who teamed up on the project thought they were going to track opossums and raccoons invading neighborhoods. They outfitted the critters with GPS collars, so they could follow their every move. "We trap them in their natural area, we put the collar on then we release them exactly where we found them and just let them go about their business," Crandall said.
But along the way, their subjects began to disappear. "Finally we saw it one day at the beginning of November, the technician went out to look for the collar and the snake was on the surface, and we were finally like, ‘Alright we have our confirmation,’" Crandall said.
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Their hunch was correct. Huge pythons were swallowing the pests and their tracking collars whole. That’s when their research project took a turn.
Burmese pythons arrived in Florida through the pet trade decades ago. While more than 12,000 of the snakes have been removed over the years, their population is exploding, and they’re eating up everything in sight, including endangered species.
A photo from the research group shows an X-ray of a python’s belly. Its prey is gone, but you can see the GPS collar it used to wear. "I think we’re really getting a glimpse of how frequently animals may be being eaten in the environment, and it’s alarming, to say the least," Crandall said.
Crandall said the snakes are making their way north. Researchers from Southern Illinois University, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences are hoping to get more funding to buy more tracking collars. "Their population is only expanding every year," Crandall said. "We're only getting more reports of detections."
The team of researchers plans to be back in Florida to test the collars again this summer.