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South Florida researchers use GPS-fitted possums and raccoons to capture invasive pythons: reports


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South Florida researchers are working on a new way to track and capture invasive Burmese pythons, by using small mammals outfitted with GPS devices, according to reports.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that a group of researchers has been watching raccoon and possum behavior on the edges of Crocodile National Wildlife Refuge, located nearly 40 miles south of Miami in Key Largo.

The small animals the researchers have been observing all have GPS collars, allowing the team to track the locations of the possums and raccoons.

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After about five months, the researchers had a bit of a breakthrough when one possum collar used in the field suddenly stopped moving for a few hours, when it began once again.

The lack of movement triggered what researchers called a mortality signal, but when it started moving again, the researchers had a hunch the small mammal may have been eaten by a snake, Michael Cove, the curator of mammals at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences told the Tampa Bay Times.

Cove is working on the project with members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Southern Illinois University.

The though was that a remained in the area as it digested the possum before relocating with the GPS tracker inside of it.

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Though it took a month for the researchers to locate the tracker as the snake moved in and out of Key Largo’s labyrinth of caves, when they did, they found a 12-foot-long, 66-pound female python full of egg follicles. A snake like this has the potential of laying 100 eggs and capturing one and removing it from the ecosystem can prevent hundreds of future snakes from being introduced into the ecosystem.

After euthanizing the snake, the Times reported, researchers were able to open the snake up and retrieve the collar, so it could be placed on another possum at a later date.

Researchers found that the collars outfitted on small mammals gives them a new way to track Burmese pythons, which are from Southeast Asia and were introduced into the Everglades in the 1990s.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Burmese pythons are not native to the Sunshine State and their presence in the Everglades ecosystem and south Florida negatively impacts the native species, as a female Burmese can lay 50 to 100 eggs at a time.

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Since 2000, more than 17,000 wild Burmese pythons have been removed from the state of Florida, the FWC reported.

In October, the state held the 2022 Florida Python Challenge to capture and remove dozens of the snakes from the ecosystem. The winner of the challenge was a 19-year-old man who caught 28 of the 231 removed during the 10-day challenge, earning him $10,000.

While researchers told the Times this method of hunting pythons will not eradicate the serpents from Florida, they claim it is the closest thing to a proven method in attracting the bigger female snakes by using bigger raccoons and larger male possums.

The challenge is producing a collar that will remain in the python and that does not pass through its digestive system. One idea being worked on, the Times reported, is a tracker with zip ties that can catch onto the snake’s digestive tract.

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As is, the collars cost $1,500 each with a lifespan of two years, and ultimately the researchers hope to utilize cheaper VHS collars at a cost of $200 each.

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