Burmese Python: How the Invasive Species Affects Ecosystems

By: Desiree Bowie  | 
Burmese python coiled on a branch or log
The Burmese python is a nonvenomous constrictor snake that relies on its muscular body to overpower and squeeze prey before swallowing it whole. Joe McDonald / Getty Images

Non-Floridians may not be aware of this, but the Sunshine State is in a major battle with the Burmese python. From 1996 to 2006, nearly 100,000 were imported from Southeast Asia, with the U.S. banning their import in 2012.

These pythons, often reaching 15 feet (4.6 meters) and abandoned by unprepared owners, have thrived in the Everglades, with a detectability rate under 1 percent. By 2000, they established a self-sustaining population, now numbering tens of thousands.


Preying on mammals, birds and even alligators, these pythons pose a significant threat to native wildlife. Let's take a look at these massive serpents that are invading South Florida.

Characteristics of Burmese Pythons

The Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) is a large and powerful snake featuring dark-colored scales with light brown or yellowish patterns along their bodies. They rely on their muscular bodies to overpower and squeeze their prey before swallowing it whole.

They're among the largest snake species in the world and have been documented reaching lengths of up to 23 feet (7 meters) or more, although specimens in the wild commonly range between 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters).


These snakes exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females generally being larger and heavier than males.

Burmese pythons have rows of recurved teeth specifically designed for securing and immobilizing their prey. These nonvenomous constrictor snakes employ their sharp teeth to firmly grasp and restrain their victims while they constrict them, ensuring a successful hunt and meal.

These pythons also have specialized heat-sensitive structures located on the upper and lower lips of their heads, just like in other python species. These pits allow the pythons to detect warm-blooded animals, helping them locate and strike at prey, especially in low-light conditions or complete darkness.



Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, including countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. They are highly adaptable and inhabit a range of ecosystems in their native range, such as rainforests, swamps, grasslands and marshes.

These snakes are often found near freshwater environments, including riverbanks, ponds and wetlands, and are skilled swimmers. Burmese pythons spend a lot of time seeking concealed spots for shelter and hunting, using burrows, hollow logs, dense vegetation or rock crevices as hiding places.


Burmese pythons are ectothermic, relying on external heat sources for temperature regulation. They bask in the sun to warm up and seek cooler, shaded areas when it's too hot.

They are found at various elevations, from lowland areas to moderate elevations in hilly or mountainous regions. In addition to natural habitats, they have adapted to human-altered environments, including agricultural areas, villages and urban areas, where they may hunt for rodents and other small prey.

Outside their native range, they have established invasive populations in regions with different habitats, like the subtropical wetlands of the Everglades in Florida.


Mating and Social Behavior

Like the king cobra, Burmese pythons are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Breeding typically occurs during the cooler, dry season in their native habitat.

There's not a lot of info about their specific reproduction process, but it is believed to involve courtship and mating. However, there is some evidence that proves the snakes can reproduce asexually.


Females lay a clutch of eggs, usually ranging from 20 to 80, in concealed locations. The female coils around the eggs, generating heat to incubate them. When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings are independent and receive no parental care.

When it comes to their reptilian social lives and sleeping habits, Burmese pythons are primarily solitary and nocturnal creatures. Despite their fierce reputation, this python species is generally docile and shy, but they can become aggressive and defensive when they feel threatened.

When provoked or cornered, they may hiss, strike or bite in self-defense. However, their primary response to threats is usually to try to escape rather than to engage in a confrontation.


Diet and Hunting

These carnivorous snakes have a varied diet that includes a wide range of prey. They are opportunistic predators, primarily consuming birds and mammals. Preferred prey often includes rodents like rats and mice, although they can also take down birds, rabbits and mammals like deer as they grow in size.

On the hunting front, Burmese pythons love a good stakeout. These sit-and-wait predators find concealed positions near water sources or in vegetation, relying on camouflage to blend in.


When potential prey approaches, these exceptionally large pythons strike swiftly, using sharp, backward-curving teeth to seize their prey. Constriction follows, with the snake coiling its muscular body around the prey to suffocate and immobilize it.

After immobilizing the prey, Burmese pythons swallow it whole, thanks to their highly flexible jaws and expandable throats. They can consume prey much larger than their own head. Their digestive system is adapted to break down and absorb nutrients from the entire prey, including bones, fur or feathers.

Following a substantial meal, Burmese pythons undergo a fasting period that can last weeks or months, depending on the size of the consumed prey. During this time, they rely on stored energy reserves until they are ready to hunt again.


Invasive Burmese Pythons

This particular snake is considered an invasive species in certain regions outside of its native range. One of the most notable examples of its invasiveness is in the state of Florida.

The National Park Service (NPS) is actively involved in managing and mitigating the impact of Burmese pythons, particularly in the Everglades National Park in Florida, where they have established a significant population. Population control efforts have included hunting and removal programs, research into their behavior and ecology, and regulations on the ownership and trade of these snakes.


The management of invasive Burmese pythons continues to be a challenge, and their presence in Florida highlights the potential ecological consequences of introducing non-native species into new environments.

If you're in the state and spot a Burmese python slithering by, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks that you call the Exotic Species Hotline to report the sighting.


The Florida Challenge

The Florida Python Challenge is an event organized by the FWC to address the issue of invasive Burmese pythons in the state. The competitive event encourages participants, including the general public and experienced snake hunters, to help remove invasive pythons from the state's ecosystem.

It serves several purposes, including population control, raising public awareness about the invasive species issue in Florida and collecting valuable research data about python behavior, distribution and population dynamics.


During the challenge, participants compete to capture and remove Burmese pythons from specific areas. Prizes and recognition are often awarded to those who capture the most pythons, the longest pythons, or other categories.

It's worth noting that hunting and capturing Burmese pythons require permits and adherence to specific regulations set by the FWC to ensure the humane treatment of the snakes and participant safety.


Impact on Bobcat Populations

Burmese pythons have been known to prey on bobcats, a native species of North American wildcats. This interaction is a part of the broader ecological impact that invasive Burmese pythons have had on the native wildlife of the Everglades and surrounding areas in Florida.

In addition to predation, Burmese pythons can indirectly affect bobcats through competition for prey. As pythons consume a variety of mammals, they may reduce the availability of prey species that bobcats rely on for food.


Preying on Python Eggs

Findings from a 2022 study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution suggest that the native bobcat could be a natural check against this threat because of its appetite for python eggs.

In 2021, ecologists, including Andrea Currylow from the U.S. Geological Survey, recorded a bobcat consuming the snake's eggs in the Big Cypress National Preserve, indicating a potential new predator-prey dynamic.


This event was documented by motion-sensitive cameras placed near a python's nest. Initially installed to study python reproductive behavior, the cameras captured a bobcat eating the python eggs and returning multiple times for more.

In a dramatic encounter, the bobcat and the python, weighing 115 pounds (52.1 kg), faced off, with the bobcat making aggressive moves despite the python's formidable size. The encounter left the nest significantly damaged, with many eggs destroyed and the rest failing to hatch.

“Most cat species adapt their diet to what is available, so bobcats predating on python eggs is actually not that surprising,” said Mathias Tobler, a wildlife ecologist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

This incident, while potentially isolated, raises the possibility that native species like bobcats are adapting to the python's presence. This adaptability might offer a glimmer of hope in the struggle to control the invasive python population in Florida.

This article was written in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.