New findings demonstrate the potential to image and subsequently remove invasive Burmese pythons. These snakes, which have long been living—and breeding—throughout the Florida Everglades are disruptive to local ecosystems as well as native wildlife. It hasn’t been easy to remove them, however, as they blend in well to the region’s foliage.
"The removal of Burmese pythons is vital to preventing further damage to the Floridian ecosystem and preventing their spread to other regions," says Jennifer Hewitt, a Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL; Orlando, FL) and lead author of the study. “Our study—one of the first to examine the efficacy of near-infrared (near-IR) sensing in locating these pythons—can help inform methods used to remove them from the environment.”
The CREOL research team has discovered that near-IR cameras can help in the removal of the invasive creatures. Commonly, wildlife management uses traditional visible-wavelength cameras, but the near-IR cameras are allowing scientists to see at distances up to 1.3X further. And, according to the researchers, as IR sensors are small and less expensive than those in traditional cameras, they are easily incorporated into handheld or vehicle-mounted systems.
The team notes that previous studies have explored thermal IR sensors to find Burmese pythons, but the snakes had to have been basking in the sun during the day for them to be detected at night. “The thermal contrast against their environment also diminished over time,” they note.
Now, the CREOL researchers are evaluating whether the IR technology will be effective in the field, “and if so, how to make it field-ready in the challenging Florida everglades ecosystem.” Reference: J. Hewitt, O. Furxhi, C. K. Renshaw, and R. Driggers, Appl. Opt., 60, 17, 5066–5073 (2021); https://doi.org/10.1364/ao.419320.