In Florida, even rattlesnakes aren’t safe from invasive species

February 26 – March 3 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and UF/IFAS Extension agents and specialists throughout Florida have been raising awareness about invasive species and how we can limit their impact on our state’s economy, our natural ecosystems and our everyday lives.

“Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?”

If, like Indiana Jones, you’re not overly fond of snakes, you’re not alone. Ophidiaphobia—fear of snakes—is one of the most common phobias, affecting an estimated one out of three adults. For many people, finding a snake in their yard is a major emergency, whether the species turns out to be venomous or completely harmless. In the Ask IFAS library of more than 6,500 science-based fact sheets, “Dealing with Snakes in the Florida Residential Landscape” is consistently in our top ten of most-Googled titles, viewed by over 41,000 people last year.

However, snakes have things to fear, too. The latest is an invasive parasite, Raillietiella orientalis, aka snake lungworm, which can fatally infect native Florida snakes. The parasite has been found in 25 Florida counties so far, infecting at least 17 snake species.

Learning that wild snakes are dying from an invasive parasite may not inspire much pity, but scientists are concerned, and they’re enlisting citizen scientists like you to monitor the spread of the parasite.

UF/IFAS invasion science website now live, amplifies citizen science participation in Snake Lungworm Alliance & Monitoring

Whether you love them or hate them, native snakes—even the venomous ones—play an important part in maintaining the balance of our natural ecosystems. Snakes are both predators and prey. They hunt small animals such as insects and larval invertebrates, birds, amphibians, and, yes, rodents. If you have a pest problem in your home, it’s probably because there aren’t enough snakes in your neighborhood. Many of Florida’s non-native species are kept in check by snakes. At the same time, snakes themselves are a food source for larger birds, mammals and other reptiles.

The prospect of native snakes dying off in large numbers poses such a threat that UF’s Invasion Science Research Institute has partnered with researchers from other universities, as well as land managers, local governments and citizen scientists to form the Snake Lungworm Alliance and Monitoring program—SLAM for short. They’re looking for help in monitoring the spread of R. orientalis.

So if you see a dead snake on a trail or in your landscape, don’t celebrate. Instead, report it to SLAM (  Whenever possible, snakes are collected by scientists and examined to record their location and perform additional research on the parasite and condition of the snake.

The fear is that the parasite could spread to snakes throughout Florida and the southeastern U.S., as well as the pet trade. Scientists first discovered the parasite in south Florida in the mid-2000s, and it has rapidly spread to snakes found as far north as St. Johns County.

And here is where the real irony kicks in: Researchers believe that R. orientalis was introduced to Florida through the Burmese python.

Of course, non-native Burmese pythons are themselves a major invasive species threat in South Florida. Since the 1980s, when escaped pet pythons became established in the Florida Everglades, they have decimated small and medium animal populations in the area, prompting widescale removal efforts. At some point, the lungworm parasite spilled over from Burmese pythons to other species.

UF/IFAS scientists lure Burmese pythons using radio telemetry during mating/breeding season

It’s a case of an invasive species spreading another, potentially even more destructive threat. This magnifying effect is one of the reasons why it’s so important to find invasive species and contain their spread as early as possible.

UF/IFAS Extension partners with groups like the Florida Invasive Species Council and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and regional Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) to help educate people on how to identify invasives and what to do when they find them.

During National Invasive Species Awareness Week and throughout the year, I encourage you to learn more about identifying invasive species and report sightings immediately on EddMapS, the IveGot1 smartphone app or call 1-888-Ive-Got1.

For more information about Florida’s Invasive Species, visit


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Posted: February 23, 2024

Category: Invasive Species, UF/IFAS Extension, Wildlife
Tags: Invasion Science Research Institute, National Invasive Species Awareness Week

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