python in the everglades
March 2, 2014

Pythons Pose Little Threat To Florida Everglades Visitors: Experts

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

While there are now over 10,000 Burmese pythons inhabiting the Florida Everglades, experts from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Park Service assure that the snakes do not pose a significant threat to visitors.

The two federal agencies conducted an assessment, which appears in the latest edition of the Wildlife Society Bulletin, looking at five incidents that took place between 2006 and 2012 that involved Burmese pythons striking biologists working in flooded wetlands.

According to the researchers, two of the strikes resulted in minor injuries, while none of them resulted in constriction. They wrote that most of the strikes were believed to be cases of “mistaken identity” in which the reptiles initiated a strike at potential prey but terminated that activity before constriction and ingestion took place.

“No strikes are known to have been directed at park visitors despite visitation rates averaging over one million per year during this period,” the authors noted. “We conclude that while risks to humans should not be completely discounted, the relative risk of a human being killed by a python in Everglades NP appears to be extremely low.”

“The strikes did not appear to be defensive, but were more likely were associated with aborted feeding behavior,” lead author and USGS wildlife biologist Bob Reed said in a statement. “Pythons usually direct defensive strikes at the front of a person, not from the side or rear, as all of these strikes were. Additionally, Burmese pythons rely on being secretive and evading detection as their primary means of avoiding interactions with people, and typically don’t strike until provoked.”

While there have been several bites to people who were attempting to capture, kill or otherwise provoke the snakes, the USGS/National Park Service probe focused solely on unprovoked strikes directed towards humans. None of the biologists detected the snakes before the attack, lending further credence to the theory that the attacks were related to feeding and were not defensive in nature, Reed noted.

The assessment also concluded that while the risk of an unprovoked python attack in the Everglades is low, it is still a possibility, and even cases of mistaken identity or defensive behavior not resulting in constriction could result in serious injury or even death. Furthermore, the probe did not address the risk presented by other types of constrictor snakes, including the Northern African python (which is known to live in Southern Florida).

“Visitor and staff safety is always our highest priority at Everglades National Park,” said park superintendent Dan Kimball. “Our guidance to visitors with respect to Burmese pythons is the same as for our native wildlife – please maintain a safe distance and don't harass the wildlife.”

“With respect to controlling Burmese pythons, we are working diligently with our state, federal, tribal, and local partners to manage this invasive species and educate the public on the importance of not letting invasive species loose in the wild,” he added.