Everglades Invasives: Burmese Pythons and Beyond...

Everglades National Park

Descriptive Transcript

Description Narrator: A group of alligators thrash into the water. Fish swim around underwater vegetation. A controlled fire burns a habitat. A bird appears in a hole in a dead tree. A ranger gives a guided canoe tour. Aerial footage of Mangroves. A snail glides along a tree branch.

Everglades National Park. National Park Service logo.

Ranger Perez: My name is Larry Perez, and I'm a ranger with Everglades National Park, and I do a lot of outreach and education work for invasive species in the area. We're, right now, at the Anhinga Trail, which is one of the most popular visitor areas in the park.

A lot of folks don't realize is that some of those animals that they're seeing out here on the trail and some of the plants, are not only not native to the area, but they're actually species that we're trying tirelessly to eradicate from the park.

Native species are those that either have occurred, now occur, or may occur in a given area through natural processes. And that stands in stark contrast to an exotic species, which is one that occupies an area either directly or indirectly as a result of human actions. Be that intentional or accidental.

Description Narrator: A wayside on the Anhinga Trail, titled Unwelcome Guests – Exotic Fish Species, lists various non-native fish in the park.

Ranger Perez: Fortunately for us, the vast majority of exotic species don't adversely impact the ecosystems that they're introduced to. But those that do are generally termed invasive species, and in terms of management, those are the ones that we typically target.

The park has been actively engaged in managing non-native exotic species for decades now, and it remains at the forefront of our efforts here as far as resource management. In a moment, we're going to show you a few of those more high-profile species and some lesser-known species you may not have heard about and take you out in the field with research, which will show you what we're doing about the problem and how we're day to day managing this very important issue.

Description Narrator: Researchers release a radiotagged Burmese python.

Everglades Invasives: Burmese Pythons and Beyond…

Toren Hill & Trey Kieckhefer, Python Field Biologists.

Toren and Trey look around the water for the released python.

Trey Kieckhefer: That was what, almost twelve feet?

Toren Hill: Yeah, a twelve-foot snake vanished.

We're releasing these snakes with tracking devices in them so we can view where they're going, how far they travel, what kind of habitat they're using.

Description Narrator: Toren holds a radio antenna and a meter to search for the radiotagged snake.

Toren Hill: The next reason is because a lot of times a male will lead us to more females or vice versa.

So, release one, you catch multiple. But we really want to learn more about these animals and study their movement and study their habits and their habitat.

It’s giving me the same thing. I think it might be further out here.

Description Narrator: Toren finds the snake at his feet.

Toren Hill: 90, 92, 95. Ah!

Trey Kieckhefer: Good thing it tried to attack!

Toren Hill: See, that's how cryptic they are. You step right on one and not even realize it.

Description Narrator: Skip Snow, Wildlife Biologist. Python Program Manager.

Skip Snow: Burmese pythons, I think, can be summed up right now where we are with them. As you may or may not know, they are an invasive species. They come from Southeast Asia. They've come here through the pet trade, either intentional or unintentional releases, some combination thereof, perhaps. We'll never know exactly how they got released.

Description Narrator: Burmese Python.

Origin: Southeast Asia.

Invasion: Pet trade.

Problem: Preys on native species.

Skip Snow: Showed up here in deep in the park in the mid-1990s. Maybe, we have information that suggests that they may have even been here as early as the mid-1980s. Needless to say, though, they are here as a result of the pet trade.

Description Narrator: A billboard warning of the Burmese python.

Un-wanted in the Everglades, Burmese Python., 1-377-CERP-USA.

Skip Snow: They were brought in here, imported in here, and then bred locally through captive breeding and distribution for sale. They were purposely imported like a lot of other exotic pets and found their way either intentionally or unintentionally into the wild.

Description Narrator: A python in a pet store enclosure.

This exotic pet store in Miami no longer carries Burmese pythons since they require a license. These are non-invasive Ball pythons.

Skip Snow: There are lots of Pythons, lots of Burmese pythons out in the wild. Most everyone agrees that given their reproductive potential and the distribution of where we find them now that there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in South Florida.

They are very broad diet, eat lots of birds, lots of mammal species, and they also successfully eat and consume alligators. They have the potential to eat many of our threatened or endangered or imperiled species that we may have.

Description Narrator: Toren and Skip walk through water and high grasses, then spot the Burmese python in the water.

Toren Hill: It’s hitting hard, right here. Really hard. There's the snake right there, see it? coiled?

Skip Snow: I don't think they provide any more of a danger to humans than the dangers we already have out there. I think that's an important point to make is that that it can be a dangerous place, whether it's whether it's reacting to the bee stings or whether it's hydration, whether it's the Pinnacle Rock or whether it's an alligator, or any of our venomous snakes. There's reason to pay attention to what you're doing.

Toren Hill: He just popped his head up right here. You can see his head. He's taking bubbles.

Description Narrator: The scene changes and the camera is dropped below the water to view the Pike Killifish and African Jewelfish.

A biologist uses a small fishing cage to capture invasive and non-invasive aquatic species.

The fish are put into a bucket and examined by the biologist and volunteers.

Jeff Kline: Those are all Jewelfish.

David Udell: Amazing, wow, those are beautiful. Wow look at this, they color up. See the Jewelfish with the red tails?

Alice Blank: Oh yeah, there's lots of them. Wow.

David Udell: So, these are African friends.

Jeff Kline: African Jewelfish.

Alice Blank: So, somebody put them in an aquarium and then they got in here, is that how it generally works?

David Udell: Yeah, what's the best theory these days of where these guys come from?

Jeff Kline: Probably the aquarium industry.

Description Narrator: African Jewelfish.

Origin: Africa.

Invasion: Aquarium Trade & Canals.

Problem: Might outcompete natives.

Jeff Kline, Fish Biologist.

Jeff Kline: In 2000, we first collected the African Jewelfish within Everglades National Park. Within this ten years that the African Jewelfish has been in the park, it's really become one of the most abundant freshwater fish within the shorter Hydra period marshes.

Description Narrator: David Udell and Alice Blank, volunteers.

Alice Blank: Have they shown any impact? Have they had an adverse impact?

Jeff Kline: Yeah, we don't know yet. The numbers that we tend to catch them in some areas suggests that there could very well be an impact.

We've got a park-wide monitoring effort. We're looking primarily to identify, try to find a lot of these non-native species, and to see how their distribution changes over time. So, we've had this big park-wide sampling effort going on since 2004, and we've been able to track how the African Jewelfish has been spreading in the park.

So, that’s a female Marsh Killifish and she's filled with eggs.

Description Narrator: Native fish are released back to the marsh.

David Udell: You worry that it's a problem. It's hard to know if it's a problem. I'm extremely curious about the degree to which it is a problem. I think the problem would be if the new fish that have been introduced are extinguishing all the native species. And we found pockets of water, certain sinkholes here, where we pull out, you know, ten or fifteen African Jewelfish to just one or two native Sunfish.

Description Narrator: A Dollar Sunfish (Native) swims in the water.

David Udell: So, it's pretty surprising to see and some of the introduced species are extremely colorful and they're interesting in their own right too.

Description Narrator: A Property Boundary marker in the marsh.

Close-up footage of the Melaleuca plant.

Hillary Cooley: Originally, it's from Australia, and it was introduced into South Florida around the late 1800s by humans, and it's still here today.

Description Narrator: Melaleuca (Paperbark tree).

Origin: Australia.

Invasion: Introduced Ornamental

Problem: Outcompetes native species.

Hillary Cooley: The reason that it can be a problem is it can displace the native vegetation. Some of the top invasives that we deal with are not only Melaleuca, but we also have Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, Lygodium, also known as Old World Climbing Fern.

Description Narrator: Hillary Cooley, Botanist.

Hillary Cooley: It's part of the mission statement of the National Park Service is to manage for invasive or non-native exotic species, so it's also part of the Park Service's mission to preserve the native habitat.

The best way, I think, to try and control it is using an integrated approach to it, so we will use both the mechanical method to chop at the tree and either cut it down or we'll just girdle it and then we'll use a herbicide.

Description Narrator: The tree’s bark is chopped away with a machete. Hillary sprays a blue herbicide on the bottom of tree, where the bark was removed.

Hillary Cooley: This tree right here now should, should no longer exist.

Description Narrator: Footage of treated Melaleuca, which have white bark and no leaves.

Hillary Cooley: You can't just go through and treat it once and then turn your back on it. You got to make sure that you're continually monitoring the areas that have been treated and you try and get back to us for some follow up treatment, and that's where you can really make your progress.

Description Narrator: A walking catfish lays on a road.

Jeff Kline: These are walking catfish; clarias batrachus. They’re a non-native species.

Description Narrator: Walking Catfish.

Origin: Southeast Asia.

Invasion: Aquarium Trade.

Problem: Preys on native species.

Jeff Kline: We had a big rain shower this morning, so they're probably trying to relocate from a hole where they were in the water and trying to find a bigger body of water to persist through the dry season.

And these ended up on the road and some are stranded in the higher ground areas where there's not much water.

Description Narrator: A crow picks up a walking catfish from the side of the road and flies away. Jeff Kline, a fish biologist, looks at the walking catfish on the ground.

Jeff Kline: They don't seem to be able to always find the better habitat. Grass isn’t always greener, I guess.

Description Narrator: The walking catfish flops on the road.

Aboard a helicopter, the pilots prepare for takeoff.

Hillary Cooley: This morning, we're going to go out to an area on the western part of Everglades National Park, where we released a bio-control, the Brown Lygodium Moth that's bio-control for Old World Climbing Fern, or Lygodium.

Description Narrator: The helicopter flies over a tree island habitat.

Hillary Cooley: As we're flying, I'm going to probably be looking and monitoring for general other non-native plants that are out there.

Description Narrator: Aerial footage of untreated melaleuca compared to brown, dead, treated melaleuca.

Hillary Cooley: Within Everglades National Park, we know there to be just a little over 1,000 different species of plants, and of that, a little over 200 of them are thought to be non-native. We estimate that there's about 200,000 gross acres of land infested within that million-and-a-half acres with some type or another of an exotic species.

The area that we released the bio-control in is one of the higher levels of infestation of Lygodium that we have in the park, which is one of the reasons why we released the bio control there. There's not a lot of roads out there to get us to where we need to go. The remoteness and inaccessibility is definitely a challenge.

Description Narrator: Hillary works in dense vegetation inspecting Lygodium.

We first detected Lygodium in Everglades National Park in 1999, and at that time we estimated the coverage of Lygodium to be, I believe, around 200 acres. And presently we estimate to be around 10,000 acres.

Description Narrator: Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium).

Origin: Asia, Africa, Australia.

Invasion: Escaped Ornamental.

Problem: Outcompetes native species.

Hillary Cooley: This is Old World Climbing Fern, also known as Lygodium microphyllum. Some of the features that I used to recognize it are this bright green color typically and has these fine or small, delicate looking leaves. It tends to climb up other plants and use them as support. And this is a good example. It's just shown in other habitats, in other areas that it is completely overgrown tree islands.

Description Narrator: A native Everglades tree overtaken by a growing Old World Climbing Fern.

Hillary Cooley: Where there's nothing—literally some of the photos I’ve seen of it—literally nothing but Lygodium. But again, it's a challenge just to get out here and try and figure out what's going on with this one specific spot over the whole huge landscape of the Everglades.

Description Narrator: Aerial views of different habitats in the Everglades.

Ranger Perez: It's a fantastically beautiful landscape. If you look around there are birds flying through the sky, and the herons and the regrets hunting, and the corners and the Everglades team’s just been fantastic to work with. These biologists are unbelievably dedicated, and they're out here day after day, year after year, counting the fish so that we can be sure that the habitat remains beautiful, and as it should be and as it always was.

Skip Snow: I would hope that the Burmese python is used as a poster child, a poster snake for this larger issue of: Are we doing the right things and do we have everything in place that we can have to prevent this from happening in the next time? Whether it's laws, regulations, education, outreach, whatever it might be, the tools to respond all of that in a package, just try and avoid this.

Toren Hill: It was about an eleven-and-a-half, twelve-foot snake, and as soon as it hit the water, it was gone.

Some people suggest, you know, if there's a python problem, why don't you just run out in the Everglades and catch them all? But that that right there just proves that it's not that easy.

Description Narrator: A poster of a Burmese python.

Don’t let it loose! Be a responsible pet owner.

Toren Hill: There could be a 15-foot snake right behind you right now, and you wouldn't see it.

Speaker 1: Or behind you.

Toren Hill: Yeah, there probably is a.

Description Narrator: Need more information?

Need to report a sighting? 1-888-IveGot1.

Toren approaches a turtle in the middle of a road.

U.S. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Everglades National Park. National Park Service logo.

Everglades National Park Video.

Featuring: Larry Perez (Everglades National Park), Toren Hill (University of Florida), Trey Kieckhefer (University of Florida), Skip Snow (Everglades National Park), Jeff Kline (Everglades National Park), Zach Fratto (Everglades National Park), David Udell & Alice Blank (Volunteers), Hillary Cooley (Everglades National Park).

Producer, Director, Editor: Jennifer Brown.

Executive Producers: Allyson Gantt, Greg Litten, Alan Scott.

Helicopter Pilot: John Gomes.

Music Performed By: Monkey Trial, ‘Arcadia’ from the Un album, and Jami Sieber, ‘Invisible Wings’ from the Lush Mechanique album.


Video about some invasive snakes, plants, and fish in the park (15 min. with closed-captions).


14 minutes, 55 seconds


NPS video by Jennifer Brown

Date Created


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