Non-native, invasive plants and animals threaten Florida's beautiful native wildlife. Species not found in Florida prior to the arrival of the first European settlers are considered non-native or exotic, and these species can become invasive when they defeat native species in the life-long competition for food, sunlight, and space. They grow quickly, spread rapidly, and often displace native plants. When native plants get crowded out, the area can become a "monoculture" which is unsuitable habitat for wildlife. In general, invasive vegetation provides a habitat with inadequate shelter and insubstantial nutrient value for native wildlife.
The state of Florida spends millions of dollars annually on invasive species control. The figures are staggering and invasive species require constant maintenance so that they do not squelch the native species. According to the 2011-2012 Aquatic Plant Management report from FWC, "Invasive plants infest 94% of Florida's 438 public waters inventoried in 2012 that comprise 1.26 million acres of fresh water."
The problem does not end with plants. More species of insects, fish, and reptiles are being discovered here every day. These flying, swimming, and slithering invaders have either arrived accidentally, have escaped captivity, or have been freed by their former owners who have become unable or unwilling to care for them any longer.
The environmental impacts of many recent arrivals have not been fully realized, and scientists are trying to learn about these species before their presence here creates problems beyond repair. Some of the most problematic species affecting the reserve include Brazilian pepper, feral pig, and pythons.
In January 2010, staff and visiting investigators at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve first began seeing large exotic snakes, primarily Burmese pythons, while conducting field research. Since then, hundreds of large snakes have been captured within the Reserve, clearly indicating these snakes are spreading out from their original point source near Everglades National Park.
Preserving natural habitats and native plants and animals within the boundaries is a priority issue for Reserve staff because these invaders pose a significant threat to native predators now in competition with pythons for food. The Reserve has begun to undertake steps to better understand the effects of this predator in its new environment and prevent further infestation to the fullest extent possible.
The reserve works in partnership with with FWC, the Conservancy of SW Florida, visiting scientists and others to address this issue.
In September, 2012, land managers in southwest Florida first convened at Rookery Bay Reserve in an effort to improve regional python management efforts and mitigate impacts to protected lands in southwest Florida. The half-day workshop included presentations by researchers studying pythons in the Reserve and in Everglades National Park, facilitated discussions to identify knowledge gaps and available resources, and strategic planning sessions for effective communications and prioritization of management issues on a regional basis.
Scientists with the Conservancy of SW Florida are inserting transmitters inside female snakes and releasing them during breeding season, enabling to locate and capture many male snakes attracted by hormones. DNA samples and stomach contents from captured snakes are studied so that more can be learned about what they are eating and how they are faring here.
We can use your help...but not by going out and attempting to capture a Burmese python. That job requires trained personnel, a collecting permit issued by the State of Florida, and other permissions issued by the Reserve.
If you see a large snake that you believe to be a python in the wild (or your backyard), contact the "I've Got 1" hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT-1 (483-4681).
CLICK HERE to learn about the Reserve's partners in the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA)
CLICK HERE to learn about a visiting scientist researching pythons in the Reserve