Context: Invasive Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are established over thousands of square kilometres of southern Florida, USA, and consume a wide range of native vertebrates. Few tools are available to control the python population, and none of the available tools have been validated in the field to assess capture success as a proportion of pythons available to be captured.
Aims: Our primary aim was to conduct a trap trial for capturing invasive pythons in an area east of Everglades National Park, where many pythons had been captured in previous years, to assess the efficacy of traps for population control. We also aimed to compare results of visual surveys with trap capture rates, to determine capture rates of non-target species, and to assess capture rates as a proportion of resident pythons in the study area.
Methods: We conducted a medium-scale (6053 trap nights) experiment using two types of attractant traps baited with live rats in the Frog Pond area east of Everglades National Park. We also conducted standardised and opportunistic visual surveys in the trapping area. Following the trap trial, the area was disc harrowed to expose pythons and allow calculation of an index of the number of resident pythons.
Key results: We captured three pythons and 69 individuals of various rodent, amphibian, and reptile species in traps. Eleven pythons were discovered during disc harrowing operations, as were large numbers of rodents.
Conclusions: The trap trial captured a relatively small proportion of the pythons that appeared to be present in the study area, although previous research suggests that trap capture rates improve with additional testing of alternative trap designs. Potential negative impacts to non-target species were minimal. Low python capture rates may have been associated with extremely high local prey abundances during the trap experiment.
Implications: Results of this trial illustrate many of the challenges in implementing and interpreting results from tests of control tools for large cryptic predators such as Burmese pythons.