3 Invasive Snakes In Florida

Key Points:
  • Neither Boa Constrictors, African Rock Pythons, or Burmese Pythons are native to Florida. They were all introduced into the Florida wild via the pet trade or escapes.
  • In the past, it was thought that boa constrictors suffocate their prey. Actually, the intense pressure applied during constriction cuts off blood flow to the heart and brain of the prey, causing unconsciousness and death.
  • The Burmese Python is the most invasive snake in Florida, causing the sharp decline of many native species. They also pose a threat to other animals over competition for food.

Florida is known for its beautiful flora and fauna and is home to many rare and wonderful animals. One animal that is abundant in Florida is snakes. There are more than 50 species of them, but not at all of them are native.  In fact, some of them are incredibly damaging to their habitats and to native wildlife – they are known as being invasive. There are five species of non-native snakes that are established in Florida, where three of them are invasive. The remaining two – Javan file snakes and Brahminy’s blindsnakes – are smaller and, although established, do not cause any harm. So join us as we discover the invasive snakes in Florida!

Boa Constrictor

Best Pet Snake option - boa constrictor
Boa constrictors are non-venomous snakes famous for their method of subduing prey.

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The first invasive snake on the list is the boa constrictor. Also known as the red-tailed boa or the common boa, this snake typically grows to between 7 and 13 feet long. Boa constrictors have thick bodies which are dark brown and have an hourglass pattern on them. They are extremely adaptable and thrive in several different habitats. However, preferred habitats are forests, swamps, rivers, streams, and canals in areas where there is plenty of cover. Boa constrictors are excellent swimmers as well as capable climbers. As such many (or at least the smaller individuals) are often found in trees. They are relatively solitary snakes that usually only interact with others during mating season. Females give birth to live young between May and August which are between 10 and 18 inches long at birth.

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The boa constrictor is a member of the family Boidae. While there are over 40 species of “boa” snakes in that same family, all of whom are constrictors, there is only one snake that goes by the name “boa constrictor.” Boa constrictors are native to South America and some islands in the Caribbean. The are considered “primitive snakes” because the have two lungs, both of which they use, and pelvic spurs, which are the remains of legs.

Boa constrictors were introduced to Florida in the 1960/’70s via the pet trade and are well established in the south. Despite being non-venomous, they have extremely sharp teeth and can bite when threatened. Boa constrictors kill by constriction. This involves wrapping their bodies around their prey after they have seized it with their teeth. Although it was originally thought that boa constrictors suffocate their prey, their prey actually dies as the intense pressure applied by the snake’s body cuts off the blood flow to the heart and the brain, causing unconsciousness and death. Boa constrictors eat a range of rodents, birds, and whatever mammals they can find within their habitat. In their native home, boa constrictors eat animals as large as monkeys. The main predators of boa constrictors in Florida are alligators, although some birds prey on juveniles.

African Rock Python

Biggest Snakes: The African Rock PythonBiggest Snakes: The African Rock Python
African rock pythons are so large that they have very few predators.

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One of two invasive pythons is the African rock python. Reaching between 10 and 16 feet, African rock pythons are one of the largest species of snake in the world. They have thick, heavy bodies and are typically brown with dark blotches down their bodies that are bordered with black. African rock pythons live in a wide range of habitats – including forests, grassland, swamps, lakes, and rivers. In Florida, they usually live in sawgrass prairies, wetlands, and around lakes. African rock pythons are oviparous which means that they lay eggs. Females lay between 20 and 100 eggs in a burrow or a cave. They remain coiled around the eggs to protect them for the 80 days they take to hatch – usually without eating.  Juveniles are 18 to 24 inches long when they hatch. The mother then remains with them for another two weeks for protection.

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As their name suggests, African rock pythons are native to Africa. They are widespread across sub-Saharan Africa – including South Africa, Namibia, and Ethiopia.  They were introduced to Florida in 2002 via the pet trade either through escaped or released pets. African rock pythons have established healthy populations – particularly in South Florida and in the Florida Everglades. They are classed as being invasive because of their impact on the native wildlife. Like boa constrictors, they are ambush predators and kill by constriction. African rock pythons in Florida eat a wide range of mammals and birds – anything they can catch they will consume, even large animals. Due to their large size, they have very few predators, with the only exception being alligators.

Burmese Python

Burmese Python in a Tree
Burmese pythons are incredibly invasive in Florida.

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Quite easily, the most invasive snake in Florida is the Burmese python from Southeast Asia. Burmese pythons regularly grow to around 16 feet long, although longer individuals have been reported. They are dark brown and have brown blotches down their sides. This means they are often mistaken for African rock pythons. Burmese pythons were introduced to Florida in 1979 due to the pet trade. Since then their population has increased and they have quickly become incredibly invasive. They typically live near permanent water sources. One of their favored habitats is wetland regions such as the Florida Everglades.

Burmese pythons eat a wide range of birds, mammals, and amphibians. The largest pythons eat whatever they can catch which is one of the reasons that they are so invasive. Burmese pythons regularly feed on Key Largo woodrats which are endangered as well as other native species which are all now in a serious decline as a direct result of being on their menu. This also means that other native species are now in direct competition for food against Burmese pythons and often cannot compete against them – leading to a further decline of native animals. Additionally, the presence of Burmese pythons in habitats means that native animals are competing against them for the same space. This along with the competition for food – means that native animals are not able to maintain their populations. Animals that have declined include raccoons, rabbits, foxes, and bobcats.

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As Burmese pythons are such large, invasive snakes they have very few predators – with the exception of only alligators. The lack of predators means that their population can increase with relative ease. It also means that they are now one of the top predators in their locations.

Summary of 3 Invasive Snakes in Florida

Rank Snake Year Introduced to Florida
1 Boa Constrictor 1960’s-70’s
2 African Rock Python 2002
3 Burmese Python 1979

Boa Vs Python

Who would win in a fight if one of these voracious predators came up against the other? Well at a glance, pythons would be likely to win the day since they have a reputation for aggression.

Rock pythons in particular are more belligerent than their Burmese cousins. But the latter are no slouches either as evidenced by their penchant for snacking on alligators on occasion, just like their rocky relatives.

There’s also size too: pythons of both kinds can reach 16 feet (or more in the case of the Burmese), while boas generally grow to 13 feet at the most.

From the look of things, the larger reptiles would be likely to win the day, unless the boa in question is an adult and the python is a smaller juvenile.

Other Invasive Animals in Florida

While animals like pythons are often the ones grabbing headlines in the Sunshine State, there are plenty of other invasive species that have made their way to Florida over the years.

Some of the more destructive, invasive mammals that you will find in Florida are wild boars and black and brown rats. Not surprisingly, Florida is also now home to a large number of invasive reptiles and lizards, such as the bright Green Iguana. Because lizards like the Green Iguana can be unruly and hard to train, many Floridians who have tried to keep them as pets have ultimately released them into the wild — worsening the invasion.

Exotic Pet Ownership Green Iguana
Iguanas are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species.

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