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Burmese python trap: Will it work?

Federal wildlife officials will test a new trap designed to capture Burmese pythons. The Burmese pythons have overrun the Florida Everglades because they have no natural predators.

By Jennifer KayAssociated Press / September 26, 2013

A python curled up in a test trap at the USDA research facility in Gainesville, Fla. The trap will test if pythons can be lured into traps.

(AP Photo/USDA Wildlife Services, HO)

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Miami

Federal wildlife officials alarmed by an infestation of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades have tried radio tracking collars, a massive public hunt and even snake-sniffing dogs to control the invasive species. Now there's talk of snaring the elusive pythons in specially designed traps.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture received a patent in August for a trap that resembles a long, thin cage with a net at one end for the live capture of large, heavy snakes.

Researchers say Burmese pythons regard the Everglades as an all-you-can-eat buffet, where native mammals are easy prey and the snakes have no natural predators. The population of Burmese pythons, which are native to India and other parts of Asia, likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

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Wildlife officials are racing to control the python population before it undermines ongoing efforts to restore natural water flow through the Everglades. According to a study released last year, mammal sightings in the Everglades are down sharply in areas where pythons are known to live.

The Gainesville field station for the National Wildlife Research Center, which falls under the USDA, is preparing to test the trap in a natural enclosure that contains five pythons.

Over the coming months, the researchers will try baiting the traps with the scent of small mammals such as rats, and they will try camouflaging them as pipes or other small, covered spaces where pythons like to hide, said John Humphrey, a biologist at the research center. Future tests may use python pheromones as bait.

"There's still more to be learned, there's still more to be tested," Humphrey said. "This is just one of your tools that you have to put together with other things to get the problem solved."

The trap was developed to catch exotic snakes without ensnaring smaller, lighter native species, Humphrey said.

The 5-foot-long trap is made from galvanized steel wire with a tightly woven net secured to one end. Two separate triggers need to be tripped simultaneously for it to close, which should keep it from snapping shut on such native snakes as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake or the water moccasin.

"The largest native snakes are generally somewhat smaller than the youngest of the pythons," Humphrey said. "That was the impetus of the design."

The longest python ever caught in Florida was an 18-foot-8-inch specimen found in May beside a rural Miami-Dade County road.

Humphrey developed the trap in collaboration with Wisconsin-based Tomahawk Live Trap, which is working on a licensing agreement to sell the traps along with other snake-handling equipment such as tongs, hooks and secure bags.

"We don't expect to sell a lot of them; it's not an everybody thing, not like a chipmunk or a squirrel trap," said co-owner Jenny Smith. But she said it has potential for wildlife removal companies when they get calls about "a big snake."

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