Dangers of Pythons at Everglades Holiday Park Airboat Tours

The Florida Everglades have been dealing with the growing threat of invasive species like Burmese pythons for some time now. The pythons are taking over the land and killing so many native species.

This growing problem is of major concern for the preservation efforts of the historic wetlands. Experts are labeling the pythons as Florida’s largest invasive species that has wreaked havoc on the natural ecosystem. Efforts have been made to combat the problem by having licensed contractors come to the park to hunt and kill the predators.

Everglades Holiday Park, our gator park in Fort Lauderdale, explains the significance and dangers of pythons in the Everglades and how finding solutions to this growing problem is crucial for the overall well-being of the natural wetlands.

Understanding the Origin of the Python Invasion

Burmese Pythons: From Exotic Pet Trade to Invasive Threat

In the 1980s, the exotic pet trade was booming in South Florida. With several major ports of entry into the United States and a warm, humid climate to support certain exotic animal species, especially from Asia, Florida has become the breeding ground for exotic species.

Burmese pythons became popular pets due to their undeniably attractive markings, docility, and, of course, the allure of owning a giant snake. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, around 99,000 Burmese pythons were imported to the United States between 1970 and 1995. Ironically, because of the massive demand for these exotic pets and their skins abroad, they are now considered threatened in their native environments.

So, how did Burmese pythons go from exotic pets in captivity to wreaking havoc on the natural ecosystem of the Florida Everglades?

Burmese pythons transitioning from exotic pets to invasive threats can be attributed to several reasons. The first major spike in Burmese pythons reproducing in the wild came after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a massively destructive category five hurricane that destroyed a major snake breeding facility near the southernmost point of the Everglades, releasing a large number of Burmese pythons into the surrounding natural environments.

The second reason that Burmese pythons have become an invasive threat to the Everglades natural ecosystem is simply human carelessness. Sometimes, people’s exotic pets escape from captivity. Other times, pet owners found that their Burmese pythons were inevitably getting too big to manage and thus released them into the surrounding environments. An inexperienced snake keeper who takes home a $20, 50-centimeter hatching is, within a year, responsible for a massive 8-foot predaitor. Unable to find a new home for them or appropriately care for them, they relinquish their responsibility for the animals by illegally releasing them into the wild. Inevitably, this has led to massive problems for the Florida Everglades.

The Python’s Native Range: Southeast Asia to Southern Florida

Burmese pythons are originally native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, a wet and marshy environment strikingly similar to the hot and humid landscape of the Everglades National Park. In South Florida, they are considered an invasive species, meaning that they are not constrained by natural factors like they were in their native range.

They need a tropical and warm temperate climate to live, offered both in Southeast Asia and South Florida. Additionally, these semi-aquatic creatures thrive in environments where they can swim, offered both in Southeast Asia and the massive, undisturbed habitats of the Everglades.

Furthermore, their unique markings and brownish-gold colorings translate strikingly well to the Florida Everglades, allowing them to go seemingly unnoticed in the natural landscape.

In their native environments of Southeast Asia, adult Burmese pythons’ primary predators are big cats such as Asian tigers and leopards, as well as king cobras. Other potential predaictors for younger Burmese pythons include monitor lizards, crocodiles, and birds of prey. However, in the Florida Everglades, they have no natural predators, allowing their populations to increase at an alarming rate.


Wildlife native to the Everglades is being threatened by a large number of pythons slithering in as they kill off populations to expand their populations. This danger could ultimately lead to local extinctions of some species, and this goes against all preservation efforts being made to help the Everglades and the native animals thrive. The pythons invading the wetlands are killing small animals, such as raccoons, rats, and rabbits.

However, the pythons will stop at no cost when large species such as alligators and deer are becoming victims to prey. According to an article published by Fox News, up to 100,000 pythons are believed to be found in the Everglades. Most of these pythons are offspring of pets that have been illegally released into the wetlands because they grew too big and dangerous for owners to manage. A Burmese python can weigh up to 200 pounds, and the strength of this large species is a major threat to all animals in its path.

Impact on Native Wildlife and Ecosystem

While pythons directly in the Everglades are of major concern, the pack of invasive species has been growing north of the wetlands. It could impact other ecosystems in the state of Florida beyond where Everglades Safari Adventures operates. By traveling north, experts are hoping that the pythons will not be able to sustain in colder climates; however, they are known to adapt to their surroundings.

“The only thing we can hope for is to have cold snaps come through; that’s the only thing that’s been shown to throw the population back, but it also kills a ton of our native animals,” said Chris Gillette, one of our animal experts here at Everglades Holiday Park.

The impact on the native wildlife and ecosystem from Burmese pythons is immense, hence the reason experts are concerned about them spreading to the rest of the state. They practically have no barriers to population growth and have wiped out the majority of small mammal populations. From marsh rabbits to wood storks, small mammal populations across the board have diminished as a result of Burmese pythons.

Declining Native Species: From Marsh Rabbits to Wood Storks

Unlike cobras, vipers, and rattlesnakes, Burmese pythons are non-venomous. It does not kill prey with its bite but rather suffocation. It coils around its prey and tightly squeezes its muscles to constrict the blood flow before swallowing it whole. Unfortunately, a Burmese python’s mealtime has come at the expense of native speacies, and studies indicate that native populations are declining.

The food base in the Everglades was completely unadapted to deal with the Burmese pythons, unlike their native environments, where they had evolved for thousands upon thousands of years. Prey in their natural habitats, typically small mammals, had developed some defense mechanisms in order to keep their populations at bay. In the Florida Everglades, on the other hand, prey was left completely defenseless.

Prey of particular concern threatened by the growing populations of invasive Burmese pythons include two endangered species, the wood stork and Key Largo woodrat, and two species of special concern, the limpkin and white ibis. Furthermore, marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes have effectively disappeared due to the Burmese pythons.

The Key Largo Woodrat is of particular concern since the only place in the entire world where it can be found is the tropical hammocks in Key Largo, Florida. This limited range makes the small mammal particularly vulnerable. The Key Largo woodrat is a mid-sized rodent with a reddish-brown tint on its sides. Currently, it is estimated that there are only 6,500 remaining. The Key Largo woodrat has been on the endangered species list before Burmese pythons were even introduced, so you can imagine how vulnerable they are now with Burmese pythons around. Researchers have already found Key Largo woodrats inside the belly of Burmese pythons. Although there is a stretch of ocean between the Everglades and Key Largo, the snakes have still found a way to get there, most likely by swimming. Although there is no evidence that there are breeding populations there, there have been reports of baby Burmese python sightings on the island.

Furthermore, when native wildlife populations are threatened, the entire ecosystem is threatened. For example, wood storks are regarded as an indicator species in the Florida Everglades that helps to “indicate” the overall performance of wetland ecosystems. Historically, wood storks nest during the dry season when fish populations are congregated into smaller, shallow pools. The delicate sensitivity of the wood stork can be observed through their nesting behaviors, frequency of offspring, and time of year. Timing is absolutely critical for wood storks since the timing of egg hatching needs to align perfectly with the height of the localized abundance of fish. A positive change in the number, frequency, and location of nesting wood storks would mean a positive change in the wetland systems and, thus, an increase in biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Unfortunately, since the introduction of Burmese pythons into the Everglades National Park, the populations of wood storks have been threatened. There have been observations of Burmese pythons feeding on the nest of wood storks and other species of wading birds, thus jeopardizing the health of the entire Everglades ecosystem.

Interestingly, Burmese pythons compete with the top predators, such as the American alligators, and have even been documented consuming them. Other more common prey of the Burmese python include species of wading birds, other snakes, raccoons, and possums, all of which have experienced declines in populations due to the rise in python populations.

Just how much damage has the Burmese pythons done in the Florida Everglades?

Well, before 2000, researchers would frequently report mammal observations in the Everglades National Park. However, from 2003 to 2011, the frequency of mammal observations, namely raccoons, opossums, bobcats, rabbits, gray foes, and white-tailed deer, declined by 85% to 100%.

However, suppose the Burmese python is not directly feeding on these animals for prey, like the bobcat, for example. In that case, they are outcompeting them for food resources, thus still contributing to their decline.

Breeding Population of Pythons: Growth and Concerns

Burmese pythons breed annually between December and April. The male Burmese python locates the female Burmese python by detecting her pheromones, the chemicals secreted by one animal to send a message to animals of the same species that it is time to reproduce. It is not uncommon for multiple male pythons to become aggressive over one mating female.

Burmese pythons in the wild reproduce sexually. During mating, a male python will wrap his body around the female python and deposit sperm in her cloaca using one of his two sexual organs. The cloaca is the female snake’s sexual organ and is also used for the removal of both solid and liquid waste. However, a female Burmese python will still lay eggs regardless of whether they are fertilized or not. She creates them regardless, and it is up to the male to fertilize them within her womb if there are to be more baby pythons created.

After about a three to four-month pregnancy, in May and June, a female Burmese python will lay up to around 50 to 100 eggs. However, there have been reports of pythons carrying up to 122 eggs. The nest is often referred to as a “clutch” and is made discretely above the water line under tall grasses or debris.

The mother Burmese python will remain with the eggs until they hatch, until about July and August, about two to three months, delicately wrapping around them and twitching her muscles in a way that raises the temperature of the eggs. After the hatching snakes break out of their shell using their unique egg tooth, the mother python leaves and continues her life until the next mating season when she does it all over again.

Burmese python hatchlings are larger than hatchings of native species of snakes and are thus less susceptible to predators and more likely to survive. It is due to these remarkable reproduction tendencies that contribute to the alarming increasing rates of Burmese pythons.

What started as a localized escape of captive Burmese pythons from a breeding facility at the southernmost point of the Florida Everglades has turned into a major problem for most of South Florida. Areas with high concentrations of python eggs include all of the Everglades National Park and areas to the north, including Big Cypress National Preserve and Collier-Seminole State Forest. A number of Burmese pythons have even been found in the Florida Keys, but there is not yet confirmation that there is a breeding population there. The massive snakes prefer to reproduce in the Everglades, where the weather is warm and the landscape is suitable for breeding, but studies have indicated that they may spread to the north eventually.

Native Predators vs. Giant Snakes: A Tilted Balance

One of the biggest reasons that Burmese pythons are able to reproduce in the Everglades so rapidly is because Burmese pythons have no native predators in the area. Without native predators, their populations can really thrive. Instead, they compete with alligators as the top dominant predators in the area.

Not only are these two top predators in competition for territory and prey, but sometimes these two animals engage in combat head to head. There have been plenty of reports detailing intense interactions between Burmese pythons and alligators, sometimes the python winning and other times the alligator. Although the alligator can use its massive jaw strength to overpower the Burmese python, alligators have still been found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons. Of course, baby Burmese pythons and alligators are at a greater risk to adult predators. Still, it is not uncommon to see adult Burmese pythons and adult alligators going head to head.

Additionally, these large snakes compete with other native predators, such as bobcats. One study indicated that in marsh areas with python populations, the Burmese pythons were responsible for 77% of the rabbit mortality within 11 months. At other sites where the Burmese python populations were more scarce, mammal predators such as the bobcat accounted for 71% of the marsh rabbit’s deaths. This study helped to conclude that the rabbit declines in Southern Florida were caused by Burmese pythons and that they are out-competing other native predators for food.

How Many Pythons are in the Everglades National Park?

So, you might still be wondering, just how many Burmese pythons are there in the Everglades National Park?

Well, the short answer is more than we can count.

Tens of thousands of invasive Burmese pythons are reported to be inhabiting the Everglades National Park. Some reports have said up to 100,000. However, it is hard to get a clear number on exactly how many due to the snake’s ability to remain hidden in the marshy landscape and dense cover of the Everglades. They hardly need to move, are expertly camouflaged, and spend most of their time hidden, making it extremely difficult to get an accurate number of their population.

However, to give an idea of how many pythons are in the Everglades National Park, a recent paper published by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that the python population has dramatically increased in only 20 years from a few snakes at the southernmost point of the Everglades national park to a full-on invasion that completely envelopes that southern third of Florida.

Their diverse use of habitat, broad dietary preferences, long lifespan, high productive output, and ability to move long distances have all contributed to the invasive snake’s large populations in South Florida.

Although there have been efforts to control the Burmese python population through hunting, there is still not a clear end in sight.


With growing concern over the invasive species, the entire state of Florida needs to take all necessary precautions for managing the pythons. Unfortunately, all efforts so far won’t eliminate the species altogether, but it’s important to do everything we can to protect our native species. Everglades Holiday Park is home to abundant native wildlife, and we are closely monitoring this situation and contributing to the efforts to diminish the pythons.

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