How to Control Florida's Invasive, Occasionally Killer Pythons?

By Allison Bond | July 10, 2009 1:20 pm

Burmese pythonThe burgeoning 150,000-snake python population in Florida’s Everglades National Park threatens crops, livestock, and native animals. And, as the July 1 story of the toddler killed by a pet python demonstrates, the snakes can also threaten human lives. The snake overpopulation began when python owners discarded their unwanted pets in the wild; now, lawmakers are pushing for legislation to combat this invasive species. Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over the best way to do it.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who filed a bill in February to ban the importation of Burmese pythons, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the snakes are slithering their way into a wider geographical area. Then he explained in graphic detail how a pet python… strangled a toddler in her crib last week in a town northwest of Orlando. ”It’s just a matter of time before one of these snakes gets to a visitor in the Florida Everglades,” Nelson said [Miami Herald]. Nelson said he’s been pestering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for three years to halt the growth of the snake population, but the agency has not yet taken action. In addition, an environmental scientist at the panel emphasized the need to majorly restructure the policies that regulate and control import of exotic species like the python.

The legislation Nelson proposed would classify pythons as injurious animals, making it illegal to bring the snakes over state lines and, he hopes, preventing people from keeping pythons as pets. Not surprisingly, exotic pet sellers stand opposed to Nelson’s plan, saying it will kill the exotic pet industry. It’s a powerful lobby: An estimated 100 million Americans own some kind of exotic pet, and critics worry a ban would drive more of the trade underground [Christian Science Monitor]. Legislation implemented last year made it more expensive, but not illegal, to own the snakes, due to mandatory $100 yearly permits and tracking chips that are required on pythons wider than two inches.

Others propose putting a bounty on the snakes and letting hunters fire away. That would require lifting the ban on hunting in the Everglades, but it’s a measure the U.S. Park Service is considering, given the gravity of the situation. At the Senate hearing on July 8, Nelson laid the skin of a 16-ft. Burmese python across the witness table and urged colleagues to “address this ecological crisis.” But even if the Senate doesn’t pass Nelson’s measure, last week’s tragedy at least ensures that more Floridians will take the python threat seriously [Time].

Related Content:
Discoblog: When Animals Invade, Part II: Giant Pythons Taking Over South Florida
80beats: Tricky Snake Hacks Its Prey’s Nervous System to Catch a Meal
80beats: Slithering Snakes Reveal the Secret of Limbless Locomotion
80beats: Super-Sized Snake Ate Crocodiles for Breakfast

Image: flickr / benjgibbs

  • Nick

    Here in Cali, ferrets and hedgehogs are illegal because “they could get loose and kill everything in the environment” despite the fact they’ve been domesticated animals for quite some time. Snakes are never domesticated, they’re just not hungry enough to kill us yet. Quite legal here!

  • Michael Gray

    There are the pythons in areas few humans care to tread, Florida wilderness, their perfect habitat. They must be efficient predators to be thriving and really, what are they eating? Native species, young livestock, pets and now a child, with python teeth marks on her young head.

    The population of monitor lizards is also steadily spreading and they are at least equally as lethal, perhaps more. In their native lands, they attack and kill people, livestock and water buffalo. They have been found from Orlando south. Both are spreading north to a state near you. Monitors like to wait by trails for their prey, and feed at night. Stop them now or never.

  • Skwish

    This is a good example of an animal taking advantage of an ecological niche we probably cleared out. I think it’s pretty unrealistic of people to believe we can somehow re-engineer “native” ecosystems. When you think of it, less than ten thousand years ago North America hosted animals like Wooly Mammoths and Sabretooth Tigers. Whether we brought their demise or not, new species took over their niches and a new balance was struck. Maybe Pythons won’t survive people’s efforts to control them, but life will still find some balance here. Whatever the case, we probably can’t pick and choose what will make it and what won’t all the time.

  • Christina Viering

    A pet python recently killed a child in Orlando.

  • Shaithis

    The problem is that when people buys these exotic species they are not truly aware of how big these snakes get and what it takes to care for them. The state should immediately initiative an easy way for owners to “unload” there unwanted pets at animal control or pet stores with no questions asked. I think the bounty idea is pretty good. Add dollar signs behind snake skins and your sure to see the population drop.

  • Skwish

    Healthy ecosystems require predators to maintain balance. If we kill off one killer animal because we didn’t take the necessary precautions and a person is killed, a different predator will ultimately take it’s place. Keeping a large predator in the house with a small child is probably a bad idea.

  • Phil from Clearwater


    On one hand, I’d agree that we need the large NATIVE predators returned to the ecosystem, but on the other hand, I’m afraid you don’t understand the seriousness of exotic invasives.

    These snakes and the myriad of other invasive exotics loose in Florida are absolutely transforming the state’s ecosystem. When a new species is turned loose in an environment it’s like playing Russian roulette with the ecosystem. Some species (plant and animal) don’t make it, others relatively peacefully coexist, but others can expand without control and totally disrupt everything. You never know until it’s too late.

    Some well known examples include: hydrilla, water hyacinths, Brazilian pepper and melaleuca. Other less known species include: Cuban tree frogs, Tilapia and Cane Toads.

    The truth is that the entire Florida ecosystem is rapidly being displaced by these introduced species. There’s nearly a million acres (yes million) in south Florida that is nothing but Brazilian Pepper trees. Nothing eats it and it overpowers anything in its way.

    Pythons are just one more nail in the Florida’s coffin.

  • Leif Oldhart

    Despite the scare-mongering of this story, I have the solution to the python problem in just three positive words: “tastes like chicken.”

    Up to 154 lbs do you say? Good lord! Imagine how many frog legs you’d need to put that much meat in your larder! Alligators are a protected species, but I’ll bet these pythons are just as good. And look at that dyn-o-mite beautiful snakeskin! You people need to stop seeing the glass as “half empty.” This glass is “full up,” and that’s a fact!

  • Burr

    You got it, Leif. I’v eaten snake and it is good and talked to a WWII from the SE Asia area who survived Jap prision camps eating python!

  • Melissa

    I belive that it is not the snakes falt. My husband and I have an 18 ft python. She hasher own room and has never struck at us or our kids. You need to be responsable with your aimals. Make sure the cage is safe fr the animal and keeps the snake in. It is not the snakes falt that the owner did not feed it he was hungrey and did not knany better. If you can not avdle the snake donate it or sell it or kill it. It is noe good to just put it outside and say ta ta. We are responsable people and you are making it bad on us trying to defend why we have a snake this size. We have decided that when she gets to be 20 to 25 feet we will look for a nice place to donate her.People you need to be responsible.

  • mel

    Hi everyone I just wanted to know were u go to sell the snake meat in florida

  • nick

    Hey Melissa,,,do yourself a favor,,,,don’t invest in pet snakes go take a spelling class. Maybe even get a GED. You say you will donate it,,,,to who ????? There’s about 150,000 killing everything in site in the Everglades,and they have no predators,,,,do you get any of this ?????????

  • Michael A. Peters

    The pythons are a Florida problem. Despite claims to the contrary, they can not survive outside of Florida except perhaps in a very small part of Texas. They are not a US problem and never will be. There is absolutely no need for federal legislation to make it illegal to transport them between states.

    If Florida chooses to ban them, that is their choice, and they do not need a federal law to do it. All snakes are illegal in Hawaii, that did not require federal action.

    Passing a federal law (or even a Florida) will not reverse the problem, however. They are there and while they do impact the ecology, their impact is far less than the impact of the Domestic House Cat, but no one seems to want to put a ban on those!

    It is ludicrous to pass a federal law stating that I can not move from California to Oregon and take my python with me when it is legal in both states just because an existing problem that can not be undone exists in Florida.

    Passing such a law, btw, is likely to result in an increase in released pets. If python owners in Florida can not take their snake with them when they move because it violates federal law, guess what some of them will do? Yup, dump it in the glades.

  • Edgar Ortega

    Nelson’s bill is far over-reaching and, if passed, would take millions upon millions of dollars out of the already crippled US economy. These animals will NEVER spread beyond the appropriate habitat limited to the southern tip Florida and surrounding areas.

    This bill would put tens of thousands of businesses under. Its not just breeders and pet stores that would feel the consequences. Feeder suppliers, cage manufacturers, agricultural, shipping businesses, and more, would suffer. In an economy where the unemployment rate is out of control, do we really need to destroy tens of thousands of businesses and put more people out of work across the country for a problem that will always be limited to one small area of the US? No reasonable person could think so.

    The truth is that this bill is backed by misguided, misinformed, fraudulent organizations, like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, who seek to end the keeping of pet reptiles, altogether.

    There are better solutions than Nelson’s s373 and related bills seeking to ban pythons (and boas) altogether. This bill is far over-reaching and based on ignorance and fear.

    The death of the child in July was the fault of irresponsible pet owners. The number of accidents from pythons and humans are miniscule, especially when compared to deaths by domestic dogs and horses. Anyone who uses accidents related to pythons as an excuse should look up the statistics on deaths by these to commonly kept animals. It would be like citing deaths by irresponsible dog owners and seeking to ban dogs. Its ridiculous.

    Write your Senators urging them to oppose s373 “The Python Ban”. Its bad for the economy, bad for our freedoms, bad for America.

  • johnny

    how exactly do pythons pose a threat to crops?????

    lots and LOTS of misinformation in both the article and the comments……the guy talking about nile monitors preying on “humans and water buffalo” is talking out of his ass………nile monitors pose little to no threat to children and even less to adults….if you respect the reptile’s personal space you wont be harmed. if your stupid and try to catch/corner the animal, theres a good chance you will be bitten and infected by its bacteria rich saliva…….if your a responsible pet owner and dont let your dogs/cats roam all over the neighborhood/ walk without a leash, then there should be no problems with them ending up as prey items……..monitor lizards tend to flee from humans at all opportunities and there is a very good chance that these big lizards are here to stay, so everyone should be doing their best to adjust to that reality…..same with the pythons…….tons of misinformation……there are as of yet NO peer reviewed studies showing that the pythons are actually having a negative effect on native species in the everglades, only conjecture from certain environmentalists and scientists so this ignorant statement that the snakes are “eating everything in sight” (thats “sight” nick, not “site” if your going to be giving out spelling lessons) is as of now, baseless and unhelpful. as for the pythons only being a “florida problem” thats not entirely accurate either………burmese/indian pythons, if left unchecked, could very well colonize southern georgia (the okeefenokee swamp would be prime habitat) a large portion of south carolina and maybe even southeastern north carolina….to the west they could very well thrive in coastal alabama, missisippi, louisiana and all of east texas right down to the rio grande and beyond….so the snakes potentially would be by no means restricted to peninsular florida.

  • PeteyJohnson

    Hey, I have to say I agree with you fellas. When can I add them to the menu, “Python the other white meat!” Sounds good to me, and just a few will fill a freezer.

  • Burmese Python

    It is not easy to find someone to take a large snake if you can no longer care for it. Never, ever release your pet as, released Burmese pythons have invaded and are breeding in the Florida Everglades and have become a serious threat there. Owners have died due to handling mistakes with these snakes as well, they are not suitable for beginners and are generally best left in the wild.

  • Tim Upham

    Obviously, the population explosion of pythons in Florida, is going to have an environmental ripple effect. It is seen already with a 99% drop in the populations of raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer, and bobcats. But what happens if this ripple effect starts impacting Florida’s agricultural industry? Has anybody calculated the damage that would be done. It was done on the forests of the Pacific Northwest, if the Asian stage horned beetle was introduced.


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