Invasive Burmese python documented eating deer weighing more than python itself

Burmese python captured in Southwest Florida with large prey item

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida documented a Burmese python eating a white-tailed deer that weighed more than the python itself. This is believed to be the largest prey/predator ratio ever documented for the Burmese python, and possibly for any species of python. The findings will be published in the March 2018 issue of Herpetological Review.

“This observation is another important piece of evidence for the negative impact invasive Burmese pythons are having on native wildlife across the Greater Everglades Ecosystem” said Ian Bartoszek, Conservancy of Southwest Florida wildlife biologist. “Imagine the potential consequences to the state and federally protected Florida panther if Burmese pythons adversely affect the number of white-tailed deer, a panther’s primary prey.”

On April 7, 2015, Conservancy wildlife biologists and land managers from Collier-Seminole State Park discovered an 11-foot female Burmese python in the park that was visibly distended by a large food bulge. After capturing the snake and moving it to an open area, the snake began to regurgitate a young white-tailed deer.

Facebook Live of media event announcing find: March 1, 2018

Once both animals could be weighed, the team noted the fawn’s mass was 15.88 kilograms (35 pounds), which was 111.1 percent the mass of the python at 14.29 kg (31.5 pounds).

The find also questions if the Burmese python may be able to negatively impact the population of white-tailed deer by preying on young fawns before they are old enough to mate. Some studies suggest the Burmese python is responsible for a 90 percent decline in small mammal populations in the eastern Everglades. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s mission is to protect the region’s water, land wildlife and future.

Burmese python (14.29 kg) captured in Southwest Florida and a white tailed deer fawn (15.88 kg)

“Our research and removal efforts are driven by what the science shows us,” said Conservancy of Southwest Florida President and CEO Rob Moher. “We are learning valuable information that is helping us push back against this invasive species that is significantly and negatively impacting our native wildlife.”

Burmese python (14.29 kg) captured in Southwest Florida and prey item, a white tailed deer fawn (15.88 kg).

About our Burmese python research

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is involved in Burmese python research in order to better understand their breeding and eating habits. This research is uncovering solutions to help control the population of this invasive species.

Since 2013, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and research partners have been conducting radio telemetry fieldwork to document python biology and behavior in Collier County.

A primary objective is to develop a database of behavior and habitat uses to better understand invasive Burmese python activities in southwest Florida. This information will be used to help land managers to develop a strategy to help control the population of this invasive species.

Tracking

Adult pythons are captured, surgically implanted with a radio-transmitter, and released back at the capture site. These individuals are referred to as “sentinel snakes” for their ability to lead researchers to other pythons during the breeding season.

A total of 20 adult male pythons are currently under surveillance through radio telemetry, leading researchers to more pythons during the breeding season. This tracking method helps the team to gain a better understanding of their movement patterns and work to control the local population of this invasive apex predator. Adult female pythons and their eggs are humanely euthanized and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s wildlife biologists then perform a necropsy to examine the animal, log data and collect genetic samples for further studies.

Biologists are accumulating valuable life history information on the behavior of Burmese pythons in Southwest Florida. This information is leading to the development of an effective python removal technique that combines both hunting and radio-telemetry tracking efforts to target and remove breeding female pythons and disrupt the egg-laying cycle.

“If we can continue to target breeding female pythons for removal the results are two-fold,” said Moher. “We are keeping the invasive snakes from multiplying and reducing the overall impact on our native wildlife populations.”

“After five years of studying these cryptic animals, we know the best way to locate a female python in southwest Florida during the breeding season is by tracking a male python. We’ve effectively turned the pythons against themselves.” said Bartoszek.

As of February 2018, Conservancy biologists and research collaborators have removed hundreds of adult Burmese pythons with a combined weight of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg / 5 tons) from a localized area of Southwest Florida.

This project is primarily funded through private philanthropic support.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida partners with scientists and land managers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Collier Seminole State Park, University of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Denison University and Naples Zoo to study and address the problem of invasive Burmese pythons in Southwest Florida.


Click the link below to read more about our Burmese Python Research:

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