Crossing paths with a 5 meter (16 foot)-long Burmese python might scare some people—but not Ian Bartoszek. He’s a wildlife biologist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and part of a group of scientists working to catch and kill invasive Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades.
These non-native reptiles likely came to the U.S. as pets but escaped or were carelessly released into the wild by their owners. They’ve been negatively affecting the local ecosystem—a community of animals interacting with their environment—ever since. “Our native wildlife has no defense against a giant snake predator, and some species seem to be disappearing,” says Bartoszek.
Bartoszek’s team has come up with a clever way to round up the invaders. They use male pythons tagged with radio trackers to lead them to breeding females. They’ve removed hundreds of pythons using these “sentinel snakes.” But Bartoszek worries it’s not enough. “There’s a lot at stake for native species and the health of the Everglades ecosystem,” he says.