Trackers are putting a squeeze on pythons
The roaming sentinel, a male python named Argo, with a surgically implanted tracking device, needed just three days to lead researchers to the largest trove of pythons found yet in Collier County.
It was a landmark discovery of the recently completed breeding season. Argo had just found a 100pound female python getting ready to lay eggs in a culvert. The female was captured.
Three days later and a half-mile away, a team with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida found the invasive snake.
“We locate him and then there is another male, and another male and another,” Conservancy wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek said. “So it’s like, where’s the female?”
The researchers beat through the brush and found an egg-laying 115-pound female.
The eight snakes, called a breeding aggregation, were the most found in one place in Southwest Florida and the western Everglades, where the pythons have been steadily spreading for years.
It’s hard to say what an aggregate of that size means for the density and the number of pythons that now have a foothold in the swamps and thickets of eastern Collier County, Bartoszek said.
Just a few miles away, another male python the Conservancy tracks went the entire breeding season without finding a single female, he said.
Part of what makes pythons so hard to track is they leave virtually no trace of their prey. The only way to know what they’re eating is to catch and dissect them, and to watch what species are disappearing from the wild.
From their stomachs, biologists have pulled bobcat claws, deer hooves, birds, rabbits, opossums and raccoons.
The Conservancy estimates that 61% of the diet of pythons found in Collier County are small mammals such as rabbits, opossums and raccoons.
An additional 29% are rodents and birds.
The Conservancy uses radio transmitters to hunt pythons. The trackers have been surgically implanted in about 20 male snakes called sentinels that are then followed to breeding females.
The Conservancy removed about 2,000 pounds of pythons this year.
“It’s about removal, but it’s also about research,” Bartoszek said. “To really have an effective control we have to learn what we can learn about them and their habits to make informed decisions.”
Ian Easterling conducts a python autopsy. OLIVIA VANNI/NAPLES DAILY NEWS