If you know you’ll always be able to find your way back home, you’ll probably be more willing to explore and visit new places, right? Recent research conducted in the Everglades by a collaboration of university and federal scientists found that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses that allow them to find their way home at a scale never before documented in snakes. This may spell bad news for the continued spread of pythons across our state.
Burmese pythons captured in Everglades National Park were implanted with radio transmitters, released in suitable habitat 21-36 km from their capture locations, and tracked from aircraft. Five of six pythons returned to within 5 km of their capture location, moving a maximum of nearly 2 kilometers per day (compared to a control group that moved a maximum of 0.5 kilometers per day). While the navigational mechanism is not yet understood, reptiles are known to use magnetic, celestial, olfactory (smell), and polarized light cues.
This type of research is critical not only to understanding the behavior and potential for spread of pythons here in Florida, but also for better understanding invasive species ecology in general. Many of these species come from remote or poorly-studied parts of the world where their ecology in their native range is undescribed. Furthermore, species introduced to new areas often behave somewhat differently than they do in their native range. While most experts believe Burmese pythons are here to stay in South Florida, better understanding them can help limit their spread and teach us valuable lessons than can be applied to new invaders.