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Cold-induced mortality of invasive Burmese pythons in south Florida

June 23, 2011

A recent record cold spell in southern Florida (2–11 January 2010) provided an opportunity to evaluate responses of an established population of Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) to a prolonged period of unusually cold weather. We observed behavior, characterized thermal biology, determined fate of radio-telemetered (n = 10) and non-telemetered (n = 104) Burmese pythons, and analyzed habitat and environmental conditions experienced by pythons during and after a historic cold spell. Telemetered pythons had been implanted with radio-transmitters and temperature-recording data loggers prior to the cold snap. Only one of 10 telemetered pythons survived the cold snap, whereas 59 of 99 (60%) non-telemetered pythons for which we determined fate survived. Body temperatures of eight dead telemetered pythons fluctuated regularly prior to 9 January 2010, then declined substantially during the cold period (9–11 January) and exhibited no further evidence of active thermoregulation indicating they were likely dead. Unusually cold temperatures in January 2010 were clearly associated with mortality of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. Some radio-telemetered pythons appeared to exhibit maladaptive behavior during the cold spell, including attempting to bask instead of retreating to sheltered refugia. We discuss implications of our findings for persistence and spread of introduced Burmese pythons in the United States and for maximizing their rate of removal.

Publication Year 2011
Title Cold-induced mortality of invasive Burmese pythons in south Florida
DOI 10.1007/s10530-010-9797-5
Authors Frank J. Mazzotti, Michael S. Cherkiss, Kristen M. Hart, Ray W. Snow, Michael R. Rochford, Michael E. Dorcas, Robert N. Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biological Invasions
Index ID 70003365
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center; Southeast Ecological Science Center