Invasive Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are novel nest predators in wading bird colonies of the Florida Everglades

  • Sophia C. M. OrzechowskiEmail author
  • Christina M. Romagosa
  • Peter C. Frederick
Original Paper


Invasive Burmese pythons have been shown to have population-level effects on native mammals in southern Florida. Tens of thousands of long-legged wading birds (of multiple species in Ciconiiformes, Pelecaniformes) breed in aggregations, known as colonies, on tree islands in the Everglades. Burmese pythons may pose a threat to these colonies because pythons are semi-aquatic and commonly use tree islands and arboreal habitat. However, python predation on nests of wading birds has not previously been documented or quantified. We used trail cameras to monitor nests at colonies in Everglades National Park and Water Conservation Area 3 in 2014, and 2016–2017. We did not detect Burmese python predation at monitored nests in 2014 (23 nests in 2 colonies) or 2016 (59 nests in 4 colonies). In 2017 (125 nests in 7 colonies), we detected three individual pythons consuming nestlings, fledglings, and eggs in a minimum of 7.9% (5 nests, n = 63) of monitored nests at a colony in Everglades National Park. In 2017, the overall predation rate of Burmese pythons at all monitored nests (5 of 125 nests, or 4%), was five times the native predator rate (1 of 125 nests, or 0.8%). Our study confirms that Burmese pythons are acting as predators in wading bird colonies at nontrivial rates and provides a baseline to which future studies can refer.


Predation Invasive Wading bird Colony Reproductive success Python 



We thank Lindsey Garner and Nick Vitale for much appreciated logistical guidance in the field. Our wading bird project technicians provided valuable field support: Martijn van der Sluijs, Alison Williams, Pamela Stampul, Andrew Bacher, Shannon Carvey, Derek LaFlamme, and Laney White. We thank our lab member, Wray Gabel, for sharing camera footage on the incidental detection in 2018. We are grateful to Jabi Zabala, Alice McBride, and Natalie Claunch for reviewing and improving earlier versions of this manuscript, and to Devon Colin MacRae for assistance analyzing images. The funding was provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Grant Nos. W912HZ-15-2-0007, W912HZ-15-2-0017).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights statement

This research was conducted in accordance with the University of Florida Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC #201708305 and #201408305).

Supplementary material

10530_2019_1979_MOESM1_ESM.docx (8.4 mb)
Supplemental word document providing information on how individual pythons were differentiated, camera pole materials and design, camera programming, and nest fates each year (DOCX 8589 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 13574 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 12715 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 37859 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 22350 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 17688 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 17127 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 12304 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 18550 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 11012 kb)

Time lapsed footage (.wmv video files) of each python detected in trail cameras in 2017 and the incidental python detection in 2018 (WMV 37072 kb)


  1. Banks PB, Dickman CR (2007) Alien predation and the effects of multiple levels of prey naiveté. Trends Ecol Evol 22:229–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartoszek IA, Andreadis PT, Prokopervin C et al (2018) Python bivittatus (Burmese python) diet and prey size. Herpetol Rev 49:139–140Google Scholar
  3. Beaupre SJ, Montgomery CE (2007) The meaning and consequences of foraging mode in snakes. In: Reilly SM, McBrayer LD, Miles DB (eds) Lizard ecology: the evolutionary consequences of foraging mode. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 334–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bodey TW, Bearhop S, McDonald RA (2011) The diet of an invasive nonnative predator, the feral ferret Mustela furo, and implications for the conservation of ground-nesting birds. Eur J Wildl Res 57:107–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bonneau M, Johnson FA, Romagosa CM (2016) Spatially explicit control of invasive species using a reaction–diffusion model. Ecol Model 337:15–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown LD, Cai T, DasGupta A (2001) Interval estimation for a binomial proportion. Stat Sci 16:101–133Google Scholar
  7. Bruton MJ (2013) Arboreality, excavation, and active foraging: novel observations of radiotracked woma pythons Aspidites ramsayi. Mem Qld Mus Nat 56:313–329Google Scholar
  8. Burger J (1979) Resource partitioning: nest site selection in mixed species colonies of herons, egrets, and ibises. Am Midl Nat 101:191–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burtner BF, Frederick PC (2017) Attraction of nesting wading birds to alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). Testing the ‘Nest Protector’ hypothesis. Wetlands 37:697–704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carthey AJR, Banks PB (2014) Naivete in novel ecological interactions: lessons from theory and experimental evidence. Biol Rev 89:932–949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cox CL, Secor SA (2007) Effects of meal size, clutch, and metabolism on the energy efficiencies of juvenile Burmese pythons, Python molurus. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 148:861–868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Santo TL, McDowell SG, Bildstein KL (1990) Plumage and behavioral development of nestling white ibises. Wilson Bull 102:226–238Google Scholar
  13. Devleesschauwer B, Torgerson P, Charlier J et al (2014) Prevalence: tools for prevalence assessment studies. R package version 0.4.0. Accessed 28 June 2018
  14. Doherty TS, Dickman CR, Nimmo DG et al (2015) Multiple threats, or multiplying the threats? Interactions between invasive predators and other ecological disturbances. Biol Conserv 190:60–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Doherty TS, Glen AS, Nimmo DG et al (2016) Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113:11261–11265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dorcas ME, Willson JD (2011) Invasive pythons in the United States: ecology of an introduced predator. University of Georgia Press, AthensGoogle Scholar
  17. Dorcas ME, Willson JD (2013) Hidden giants: problems associated with studying secretive invasive pythons. In: Lutterschmidt W (ed) Reptiles in research: investigations of ecology, physiology, and behavior from desert to sea. Nova Science Publ. Inc., Hauppauge, pp 367–385Google Scholar
  18. Dorcas ME, Willson JD, Gibbons JW (2011) Can invasive Burmese pythons inhabit temperate regions of the southeastern United States? Biol Invasions 13:793–802CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dorcas ME, Willson JD, Reed RN et al (2012) Severe mammal declines coincide with proliferation of invasive Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:2418–2422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Doren RF, Trexler JC, Gottlieb AD et al (2009) Ecological indicators for system-wide assessment of the greater everglades ecosystem restoration program. Ecol Ind 9:S2–S16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dove CJ, Snow RW, Rochford MR et al (2011) Birds consumed by the invasive Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA. Wilson J Ornithol 123:126–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dove CJ, Reed RN, Rochford MR et al (2012) Consumption of bird eggs by invasive Burmese pythons in Florida. IRCF Reptiles Amphib 19:64–66Google Scholar
  23. EDDMapS (2018) Early detection and distribution mapping system. The University of Georgia—Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Accessed 7 July 2018
  24. Frederick PC, Collopy MW (1989) The role of predation in determining reproductive success of colonially nesting wading birds in the Florida Everglades. Condor 91:860–867CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frederick PC, Spalding MG (1994) Factors affecting reproductive success of wading birds (Ciconiiformes) in the Everglades ecosystem. In: Davis S, Ogden J (eds) Everglades: the ecosystem and its restoration. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, pp 659–690Google Scholar
  26. Frederick P, Gawlik DE, Ogden JC et al (2009) The white ibis and wood stork as indicators for restoration of the everglades ecosystem. Ecol Ind 9:S83–S95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fritts TH, Rodda GH (1998) The role of introduced species in the degradation of island ecosystems: a case history of Guam. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 29:113–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Greene HW (1997) Snakes: the evolution of mystery in nature. Univ of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  29. Hart KM, Cherkiss MS, Smith BJ et al (2015) Home range, habitat use, and movement patterns of non-native Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park, Florida. Anim Biotelem, USA, p 3Google Scholar
  30. Hines JE (2006) PRESENCE2: software to estimate patch occupancy and related parameters. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, LaurelGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoyer IJ, Blosser EM, Acevedo C et al (2017) Mammal decline, linked to invasive Burmese python, shifts host use of vector mosquito towards reservoir hosts of a zoonotic disease. Biol Lett 13:20170353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kushlan JA (1977) Growth energetics of white ibis. Condor 79:31–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kushlan JA, Morales G, Frohring PC (1985) Foraging niche relations of wading birds in tropical wet savannas. Ornithol Monogr 36:663–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. MacKenzie DI, Nichols JD, Lachman GB et al (2002) Estimating site occupancy rates when detection probabilities are less than one. Ecology 83:2248–2255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McCleery RA, Sovie A, Reed RN et al (2015) Marsh rabbit mortalities tie pythons to the precipitous decline of mammals in the Everglades. Proc R Soc B 282:20150120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miller MA, Kinsella JM, Snow RW et al (2017) Parasite spillover: indirect effects of invasive Burmese pythons. Ecol Evol 10:830–840Google Scholar
  37. Moore N, Roy S, Helyar A (2003) Mink (Mustela vison) eradication to protect ground-nesting birds in the Western Isles, Scotland, United Kingdom. N Z J Zool 30:443–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ploger BJ, Medeiros MJ (2004) Unequal food distribution among great egret Ardea alba nestlings: parental choice or sibling aggression? J Avian Biol 35:399–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pough FH (1980) Advantages of ectothermy for tetrapods. Am Nat 115:92–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Reed RN, Hart KM, Rodda GH et al (2011) A field test of attractant traps for invasive Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) in southern Florida. Wildl Res 38:114–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Reed RN, Willson JD, Rodda GH et al (2012) Ecological correlates of invasion impact for Burmese pythons in Florida. Integr Zool 7:254–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reeves LE, Krysko KL, Avery ML et al (2018) Interactions between the invasive Burmese python, Python bivittatus Kuhl, and the local mosquito community in Florida. PLoS ONE, USA, p 13Google Scholar
  43. Reichert BE, Sovie AR, Udell BJ et al (2017) Urbanization may limit impacts of an invasive predator on native mammal diversity. Divers Distrib 23:355–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rodgers JA (1987) On the antipredator advantages of coloniality: a word of caution. Wilson Bull 99:269–271Google Scholar
  45. Ross CT, Winterhalder B (2015) Sit-and-wait versus active-search hunting: a behavioral ecological model of optimal search mode. J Theor Biol 387:76–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Salo P, Korpimaki E, Banks PB et al (2007) Alien predators are more dangerous than native predators to prey populations. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 274:1237–1243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Savidge JA (1987) Extinction of an island forest avifauna by an introduced snake. Ecology 68:660–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Secor SM, Diamond J (1997) Effects of meal size on postprandial responses in juvenile Burmese pythons (Python molurus). Am J Physiol 272:R902–R912Google Scholar
  49. Smith BJ (2016) Spatial ecology of invasive Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. MS thesis, University of FloridaGoogle Scholar
  50. Snow RW, Brien ML, Cherkiss MS et al (2007) Dietary habits of the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus, in Everglades National Park, Florida. Herpetol Bull 101:5–7Google Scholar
  51. Sovie AR, McCleery RA, Fletcher RJ Jr et al (2016) Invasive pythons, not anthropogenic stressors, explain the distribution of a keystone species. Biol Invasions 18:3309–3318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Willson JD (2017) Indirect effects of invasive Burmese pythons on ecosystems in southern Florida. J Appl Ecol 54:1251–1258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Willson JD, Dorcas ME, Snow RW (2011) Identifying plausible scenarios for the establishment of invasive Burmese pythons (Python molurus) in Southern Florida. Biol Invasions 13:1493–1504CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Wildlife Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations