Pythons May Have Eaten All the Rabbits in the Everglades

Peter Cottontail's Florida cousin is no longer hopping down any bunny trails in the Everglades. That's because he was eaten by a python.

A new study says that rabbits may have been completely eliminated from areas of the Everglades where invasive snake populations are the most heavy. Bobcats, raccoons, white-tailed deer, opossums and foxes have also seen massive drops in their populations.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a new study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences shows massive declines in mammalian populations in the Everglades between 2003 and 2011:

A team of scientists said they found that between 2003 and 2011, the areas where pythons had proliferated saw a 99 percent decrease in raccoons, a 98 percent drop in opossums, a 94 percent drop in white-tailed deer and an 87 percent falloff for bobcats. And that's not the worst of it.

"We observed no rabbits or foxes," the report noted.

Yes, no rabbits. Which is particularly disturbing considering that rabbits are quite noted for their reproductive abilities. The term "humping like rabbits" isn't just a joke, you know.

The study also found that raccoons were once so prevalent in the Everglades it was common for campers in the river of grass to complain about the little buggers. However, no campers had made a report of being bothered by a raccoon since 2005.

The culprit is likely alien snakes like Burmese pythons who have taken over the Everglades in recent years.

"We assembled all the evidence, and there's enough evidence here to indict the Burmese python," University of Florida professor Frank Mazzotti tells the Times. "But there's not enough to convict the Burmese python."

The researches can't quite rule out disease or changes in water flow as possible contributing factors to the decline.

Though, the elimination of small mammals is worrying for the rest of the Everglades food chain as well. Especially to their natural hunters like black bears and the endangered Florida panther.

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Kyle Munzenrieder