Study Finds That Your Dog Loves Your Praise More Than Treats

The next time you want to treat your pooch, you might want to consider giving it some kind words rather than a snack, because new research suggests that many dogs would rather get our praise than our prosciutto.

The first-of-its-kind study mixed brain-imaging data from canines with a series of behavioral experiments, and came to the conclusion that dogs really do value the relationships they have with their owners. In other words, we’re not just a means to get food.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” said neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University.

Berns’ team studied 15 dogs, with each animal being monitored through almost 100 separate trials. Only two of the dogs were found to clearly prefer food over praise from their owners, with the other 13 either preferring praise or appearing to like both equally.

To get an idea of what kind of owner behaviorr the dogs were most interested in, the researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with three different outcomes: a pink toy truck meant a food reward, a blue toy knight represented verbal praise from the owner, and a hairbrush acted as a control object that signified no reward at all.

Neural activity was recorded using an fMRI machine as the dogs were tested on each of the three objects. Four dogs showed stronger neural activation for praise, compared with just two dogs that showed a stronger stimulus for food, while in the nine others, the levels were around the same for both.

Next, the dogs were shown around a Y-shaped maze, with one path leading to a bowl of food, and the other leading to the dog’s owner (facing away from the dog). The dogs that showed a stronger response to praise in the first experiment also chose to go to their owners instead of the food 80 to 90 percent of the time in this second test.

According to the researchers, the results suggest that the stronger neural stimulus spotted on the brain scans does affect the way the dogs will behave.

Academics have been trying to figure out ‘man’s best friend’ for a century at least: right at the start of the 1900s, Ivan Pavlov found that dogs ‘learned’ to start salivating when their owners (and the possibility of food) appeared, rather than just at the sight of the food itself.

That in turn gave rise to the idea of classical conditioning as a way in which animals can learn to connect certain objects and people with certain consequences. But the relationship between people and dogs might not be as clear-cut as Pavlov thought.

“One theory about dogs is that they are primarily Pavlovian machines: they just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it,” said Berns. “Another, more current, view of their behaviour is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

It’s worth pointing out that Berns’ study is definitely on the small side, with only 15 animals taking part.

But until there’s further research with a bigger pool of animals, as dog lovers, we’ll take any evidence we can get that our canine companions really do care about interaction just as much (if not more) as where their next meal’s coming from.

Keeping Cool with Man’s Best Friend As The Temps Continue To Soar

The swimming pools are like bathwater, the surf report recorded the ocean temperature at 86 degrees last week. No one is going to disagree – this has been an oppressively hot summer, even for Florida.

Our bodies sweat. It’s our body’s way of cooling us off. We can also remove ourselves from the heat, get cool water to drink, crank up the air conditioning, and yes, sweat. Our dogs cannot do any of these things. They rely on us to keep them from overheating.

Dogs pant, they do not sweat, and panting does not cool them down effectively. Plus they are wearing those fur coats. Whoever said “It’s a dog’s life” was not talking about August in Florida.

To keep your dog comfortable, healthy, and to prevent heatstroke, there are things you can do:

1. Make sure your dog’s water bowl is filled with fresh, cool water. Generally I refresh the water in Odin’s and Crissa’s bowls three times a day, when they are fed. This summer I have been finding empty water bowls by midday, and they are inside with the air conditioning.

2. Keep your dogs inside. This is not good weather for them to be out. If they must be out, provide them a place that is shaded all day, and a good supply of clean, cool, fresh water.

3. Walk by 8 a.m. or after the sun goes down. It will be better for you, and better for your pup. The sidewalks and roads heat up during the day. If you are unsure, take the back of your hand and place it on the pavement, or stand in one place on the pavement in your bare feet. The pads of your dog’s paws are far more sensitive than your hand or feet.

4. Some dogs enjoy playing in the ocean or swimming pool. Do not allow them to drink the salt water in the ocean. A small baby pool may be a fun activity for your dog. Just make sure there is cool water in it.

5. Have them groomed, or brush them, regularly. Odin has been shedding excessively this summer. I try to brush him every couple of days, not only to keep down on the corgi tumble fur, but also to cut down on the fur he is carrying around.

6. Leave them at home when you go out. Please, if you love them, don’t leave them in the car, not even for a minute, not even with the window down. Not only is it against the law, it’s a crummy thing to do to a dog that loves you without reservation. For heaven’s sake be worthy of that devotion.

Hopefully we are on the down swing and cooler weather will be here in a few weeks. Until that time – stay cool.

Flomurica… A Florida Man Is Fighting To Keep His junk Food Eating Pet Alligator

Retired firefighter David Van Buren has had his beloved pet alligator Gwendolyn for an astounding 47 years, since he was just 9 years old. And in those nearly five decades, Buren and Gwendolyn have become inseparable. He even took him (Gwendolyn is a boy alligator, apparently) (alligators don’t care about your concept of gender, okay; they’re very progressive) away to college with him! But now Florida Fish and Wildlife is stepping in, because at a whopping 13 feet long, they claim that Gwendolyn is now too big to live in Buren’s yard.

Gwendolyn’s massive size may be due in part to his diet, which consists of pizza and snack food like Chips Ahoy!, and uh, other stuff that an alligator is supposed to eat, probably. At one point Gwendolyn was even living indoors with Buren, who says, “Once he was in the house, he didn’t want to leave. I think it took us like three weeks to get him to go back outside. He was on the couch all the time or in the bathtub…”

Well, it’s no wonder Gwendolyn is so attached. And thankfully it looks as though he’ll get to stay with his owner, as Florida Fish and Wildlife agree that the best outcome for the gator will be to remain with Buren, pending changes to his property.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of a story like this. Earlier this year, Mary Thorn of Lakeland, Florida, was in danger of losing her beloved pet gator “Rambo” for similar reasons. There’s been no updates to Thorn’s story, but we hope that she and Rambo are still off riding ATVs together.

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Why Do Dogs Like To Ride in Cars?

The jangle of car keys or the mere sound of the word “ride” can send some dogs into paroxysms of happiness. There’s frantic dancing and joyful bouncing until the car door opens, then an ecstatic leap inside for a ride of what must seem like pure euphoria.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of research about why so many dogs enjoy car rides, but many dog owners have witnessed the glee firsthand. Experts surmise it may have to do with things like the smorgasbord of smells or simply who’s in the car with them.

Stanley Coren, dog behaviorist and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, points out that dogs have 225 million olfactory receptacles in their noses, compared with the mere 50 million we have.

“If you crack the window,” Coren tells the Globe and Mail, “a dog gets a kaleidoscopic view of the world through his nose, as the scents are changing all the time. We [humans] are visual animals … A dog lives through his nose.”

Imagine the smells he’s picking up as you zip out of your neighborhood, past parks and restaurants, schools and businesses, and places where lots and lots of other dogs have been.

“I’m not sure they’re getting a high, per se,” Dr. Melissa Bain, a veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, tells Car and Driver. “But they are getting a lot of input at higher speed.”

Plus, it may just feel good.

But it may not be just the smells that dogs like when they’re in the car.

Vermont dog trainer Kevin Behan believes dogs like being in the car because it stirs up feelings of being on the hunt.

When your dog is in the car with his “pack” — the people he’s bonded with — and you’re all swaying and moving together and facing the same direction, this synchronized motion can give your dog the feeling that he’s part of a group that’s on the hunt, Behan says.

Behan explains that some dogs are so overtaken by this urge that they think the animals and objects they see outside the window are prey. Once they get out of the car, they need to get rid of all that energy:

“For some dogs the feeling can grow so strong that when their emotional or carrying capacity is exceeded, they strike at things going past. This is when the prey instinct, an automatic, hardwired reflex, takes over in order to make the kill. (We need to remember that it’s only in our mind that a dog on a sidewalk is motionless relative to the dog in the moving car. For the dog in the car, the dog on the sidewalk is moving 30, 40 or 50 mph and that’s a pretty fast prey animal.) Some dogs have a higher carrying capacity and can retain a feeling of arousal for the potential moment in the future when they will be let out of the car so as to express the internalized energy in a concrete way, such as running around, rolling on the ground, playing Frisbee or going for a hike with their owner.”

Although there could be serious hereditary instincts kicking in when your pup vaults into the backseat, the explanation might be simpler, says Dr. Brian Hare, Duke University associate professor of evolutionary anthropology and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center. Your pup likely has figured out that a car ride usually means you’ll end up somewhere interesting.

At the very least, he tells Car and Driver, “dogs associate the car with a good outcome: ‘When I get in this thing, good things happen.’ At the most they understand that they’re going somewhere.”

But the other good part? They’re just happy to be going somewhere with you, Hare says.

“If you give dogs a choice between being with a person or with other dogs, dogs prefer to be with ­people.”

New FDA-Approved Drug Can Calm Anxious Dogs During Fourth Of July Fireworks

Dogs who love to stay outdoors likely wouldn’t fare well this firework-filled holiday weekend. Loud noises from fireworks, thunder and the elements can indeed make dogs anxious, extremely afraid and reeling from what’s called noise aversion.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, just recently approved the first and only drug made to help furry friends with this problem.

A low-dose version of canine sedatives, Sileo oromucosal gel hit the U.S. market last month after being approved in late 2015 for noise aversion treatment in dogs. This condition causes symptoms that range from panting and trembling to extreme panic to running away and injuring themselves as a result.

“It has rapid speed of onset, is easy to administer at home and works ‘in the moment,’ without any other treatments or training,” said Dr. Shelley L. Stanford, group director at Zoetis, the firm marketing the oromucosal gel product in the country.

Sileo is administered to dogs through placing the gel between the cheek and gum for oral transmucosal absorption. It usually takes effect within a half to a full hour after application – said to offer a calming effect without sedating.

Its manufacturer, Finnish company Orion, tested the medication on 144 dogs on New Year’s Eve and revealed that 75 percent of canines taking Sileo had less anxiety than expected during fireworks, compared to 33 percent of those on placebo. The results were based on dog owners who were asked to document their pets’ reactions.

“It’s not a tranquilizer, per say. It works on the nervous system to inhibit the release of adrenaline or nor-epinephrine,” explained veterinarian Dr. Gary Yarnell in a CBS News report, however cautioning that dogs suffering severe breathing, heart, kidney or liver issues should not be given the drug.

The first remedy, he added, is to comfort one’s pet first before turning to drugs. Those with serious noise aversion condition, for instance, should be accompanied at all times and never left at home alone.

Zoetis estimated that around one-third of dogs are affected by noise aversion, which could be incited by noise events such as July Fourth festivities. Fireworks in fact emerge as one of the leading triggers, with July Fifth as the busiest day for shelter intakes in the country.

Sileo is only one in a sea of pet remedies. Dog vest ThunderShirt promises to address anxiety through applying mild pressure. The previous week, a wearable device called the Calmz Anxiety Relief System was launched to provide “calming frequencies” for dogs to hear and feel.

Factors other than fireworks and other forms of noise can cause stress and anxiety in dogs. Yes, these include even mere hugging – a sign that the gesture meant to express affection could be differently interpreted by these creatures.

Should Dogs Have Legal Rights?

In 2011, Bob and Elizabeth Monyak took their dogs, Lola and Callie, to an Atlanta pet kennel. During the dogs’ stay, kennel staff mixed up the animals’ medications, which landed Lola in the hospital with acute kidney failure. She died nine months later.

The Monyaks sued, but under the law, dogs are considered property, and the kennel claimed that Lola had “no fair market value” because she was a rescue dog that was adopted for free. The Monyaks’ case eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court, and this month, in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that a jury can decide the monetary value of a pet — not the market.

Ultimately, Lola was still considered property in the eyes of the law; however, by acknowledging that a treasured pet is worth more than simply what was paid for it, this case joins a host of others that reflect a significant change in how American society regards man’s best friend.

Why should dogs have rights?

While you won’t find mention of dogs’ rights in the Bill of Rights, to some degree, dogs do have rights under American law. “The last couple of decades, there have been a lot of laws that target cats and dogs specifically and give them what a lot of lawyers would consider rights, whether it’s the right to be free of cruelty, the right to be rescued from a natural disaster or the right to have their interests be considered in a courtroom,” journalist David Grimm told National Geographic.

Still, according to law, dogs are property, making them no legally different from furniture or other items in your home. However, experts say decisions like that in the Monyak case are changing this. After all, this certainly wasn’t the first time a court weighed a dog’s value, as well as its right to life. When a Texas dog was wrongfully euthanized in 2012, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled “the special value of man’s best friend should be protected” and effectively gave dogs increased legal status by acknowledging pets are more than simply property.

Rulings like this seem to reflect our sentiment. According to a Harris poll, 95 percent of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family. Nearly half of those polled purchase birthday presents for their pets, and three in 10 frequently cook for the animals that share their homes just like they do for family.

“As pets have become family in our homes,” writes Grimm in his book, “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs,” “they’ve also become family in the eyes of the law.”

But it’s not just our affection for man’s best friend that’s led to companion animals’ growing legal recognition. In recent years, research has revealed dogs aren’t that different from us. They not only have the capacity for emotion, but they also have the ability to read our emotions.

“Science has demonstrated that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human child two to three years of age,” writes dog expert and neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren. “Like a toddler, the dog has all of the basic emotions: fear, anger, joy, disgust, surprise and love.”

And in 2013, after two years of studying MRI scans of dogs, Emory scientist Gregory Berns concluded, “dogs are people too.”

Even Pope Francis has weighed in on the sentience of animals like dogs, noting “every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity” and that one day we will see animals in heaven because “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

This growing body of scientific evidence, combined with a compassionate understanding of the bond between human and companion animal, has led to changes in how our legal system operates. For example, it’s becoming more common for pet owners to sue for mental suffering and loss of companionship when a dog or cat is killed, and judges have even started taking the best interests of pets into account during custody cases.

What if man’s best friend had the same rights as man?

In 2014, French parliament reclassified animals as “living beings” instead of simply property. Last year, New Zealand passed the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, acknowledging that animals are sentient beings just like humans. And in December, Quebec granted animals the same rights as children under its laws.

With so many countries recognizing a new legal status for animals, especially pets, it seems only natural others would follow suit. But not everyone wants the law to look upon man’s best friend differently, and one of the biggest opponents to it here in the U.S. is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

It’s understandably beneficial to veterinarians that we treat our pets like children. After all, if you think of your dog as a member of the family, you’re likely willing to spend a great deal of money to keep that family member healthy.

However, organizations like the AVMA are concerned that if the law recognizes pets as family members, then veterinarians could easily be sued for malpractice. In other words, a dog that’s legally worth only its adoption costs is much less risky to operate on.

“The veterinarians are in a very tricky situation,” Grimm said. “They benefit when we consider our pets members of the family, but they are also starting to see the other side of that, too. When we view our pets like children, we sue like they are children when things go wrong.”

There are also concerns that by recognizing pets as humans under the law, pet owners themselves could lose rights. Critics say granting animals such legal status could lead to arguments that dogs can’t be spayed or neutered against their will, for example. Other say that taking such a step could spawn a great deal of frivolous and expensive litigation, as well as a slippery slope that could lead to the end of hunting and breeding.

“As farfetched as some of this stuff may sound, we’re on this dramatic trajectory, and it’s really unclear where we’re going,” Grimm said. “There are a lot of unintended consequences to treating pets as people.”

How To Protect Your Dog’s Paws From The Hot Florida Summer Pavement

Imagine walking down the sidewalk barefoot on a blistering hot day. You’d be in agony after a few seconds.

That’s how your dog likely feels when you head out for a stroll in the heat of the day. Pet owners often overlook how painful hot pavement can be for their four-legged companions. Here are some tips for protecting those paws when it’s hot outside:

Adjust your walk schedule

Avoid the middle of the day and take your walks in the early morning or evening hours suggests the Humane Society of the United States. That’s when the pavement isn’t so hot.

Get off the concrete

Have your dog walk in the grass or dirt instead of the sidewalk or other hot surfaces. Those surfaces are much cooler, and there’s a much lower chance the dog’s pads will get burned.

Try it for yourself

Before you bring your dog outside, test to see how hot the concrete or blacktop is. Press the back of your hand against the concrete for seven to 10 seconds to see if it will be comfortable for your dog to walk on. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws, says the Humane Society of Charlotte.

Cover up

Consider protective booties or paw wax, which creates a barrier against the elements. They will create a protective layer between your dog’s feet and hot surfaces.

Build up calluses

Walk your dog on concrete during the cooler part of the day to help build up calluses on the pads of her feet, suggests the Oregon Humane Society.

Be careful at the beach, too

Sand can get as hot as pavement. Use the hand test in this setting as well before taking your pet out to the beach. Your dog’s paw pads may be more sensitive after being in the water, so pay special attention to her feet if she’s just been swimming or splashing around.

What to look for

If you’ve been out with your dog on a hot day, it’s a good idea to check their feet for any problems. Here are signs of possible burned paw pads:

  • limping or refusing to keep walking
  • licking or chewing at feet
  • pads that are darker in color than normal
  • blisters or redness on the feet
  • missing part of paw pad

If you think your dog might have burned her paw pads, here’s what to do:

  • Carry your dog to a grassy, cool area.
  • Immediately rinse with cool water.
  • Apply a gentle antibacterial cream or liquid.
  • Keep your pet from licking her paws.
  • If burns are minor, apply an antibacterial ointment and loosely bandage.
  • For serious burns, see your vet to prevent infection.

Even Some Peanut Butters Could Be Poisonous for Your Dog, FDA Warns

Chocolate and grapes are definitive “no’s” on the list of snacks your pooch can enjoy. But less suspecting food items, like certain brands of nut butter, are not safe for your four-legged pal either, according to a consumer update recently published by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some nut butters contain an ingredient called xylitol, a sugar alcohol that is slightly less caloric than real sugar and is present in a number of human foods. Snacks like sugarless gum, breath mints, chewable vitamins and even toothpaste often contain the ingredient, so these are particularly important to keep out of reach. Nut butter brands including Krush NutritionNuts ‘n More and P-28 contain the dog-unsafe sweetener.

“If you’re concerned about your dog eating a food or product with xylitol in it, check the label of ingredients,” Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at FDA, said. “If it does, indeed, say that it contains xylitol, make sure your pet can’t get to it.”

Xylitol is absorbed into dogs’ bloodstream at an extremely fast rate, and may increase the release of insulin from their pancreas, which could be deadly for your pet.

Xylitol poisoning may first induce vomiting in dogs, and may be followed by lowered activity, weakness, lack of coordination and seizures. If your dog is showing symptoms, or if you think your dog has ingested the ingredient, the FDA advises you to take the dog to the vet or an animal hospital immediately.

Even xylitol-free peanut butter can be risky, depending on how the dog eats it. Spoon-feeding can be dangerous because your pup may be so enthusiastic about the treat, they might swallow the utensil whole.

Sharing is sweet, but make sure to do so with caution.

The Fresh Food Movement Isn’t Just for People Anymore

For the past few years, I’ve been on a mission to get processed foods out of my house, and our fridge is generally loaded up with fruits and veggies. If we don’t make it from scratch, we don’t eat it — and that means everything from pizza crust and tortillas to soups and pasta dishes. We’re not perfect and there are lots of exceptions, but for the most part, I think we do a good job of eating fresh, healthy, homemade food as often as possible.

That’s why I am so embarrassed to admit that it never crossed my mind that my dogs and cats should be eating fresh food too. We have two dogs and two cats — all rescues — and they are as much a part of my family as any of the two-legged critters sitting at the kitchen table. I always thought I was doing a good job by feeding my pets the top quality food recommended by my vet, and they gobbled it up like champs. But at the end of the day, it’s still processed food. I wanted to learn more about what making food for my pets would mean.

First, as with any big change in your pet’s routine, consult your veterinarian. A raw food diet, in particular, can be risky since it involves handling and eating raw meat, which may be contaminated with bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Both the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) caution against feeding animals a raw diet. “One study in 2008 found that when 166 frozen raw food products sold in Canadian stores were randomly tested, about 20 percent were positive for salmonella,” the New York Times reports.

And while homemade pet food may be less risky, it’s not without danger. According to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), “The main drawback to preparing diets at home is that unless following properly formulated recipes, it is easy to create nutrient deficiencies or excesses that could cause illness in your pet.”

In fact, in 2013, researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine studied more than 200 dog food recipes from 34 different places (pet care books, veterinary textbooks and websites) and found 95 percent were not well balanced. Nutritional deficiencies can cause immune system problems, fatty liver and musculoskeletal issues, according to U.C. Davis.

With that research in mind, I decided to ask some folks who’ve made the switch to homemade pet food.

Jodi Chick, the blogger behind Kol’s Notes, a blog that focuses on DIY dog treats and recipes, had only been a dog owner a few weeks when the big pet food recall of 2007 hit. Chick remembers noticing that every brand of pet food in her house was on the recall list. “The next few years were a journey of discovery as I promised my well-loved, sassy rescue dog that I could and would feed him better, and that we would figure out how to manage his serious food allergies without steroids or Benadryl,” Chick told me. After settling on a diet of home-cooked and raw foods, Chick said “I’ve seen such a remarkable change in his health and today, he’s a different dog.”

This kind of health overhaul was a common theme in conversations with the dozens of people that I talked to about fresh food for pets. Mark Webb, the editor at CentralParkPaws.net, started his dog, Lady, on a diet of chicken, rice and beans as an alternative to the expensive medical procedures Lady’s vet recommended. “You can tell her mood has improved exponentially, she’s up and walking, and it’s like she’s only 7 years old again! She’s 12 now,” Webb explained.

Fresh food for pets is not a new idea, but it is an idea that is catching on as more people realize they can get and make healthy food for their pets. A number of new businesses, including Real Pet Food, Darwin’s Natural Pet Products and The Farmer’s Dog now offer the same kind of subscription-based fresh food delivery services that have made businesses like Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh so popular for the human set. Just Food For Dogs also offers delivery, but if you’re lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can stop by one of their four dog food restaurants to pick up a fresh order of macaroni and cheese or turkey and rice for your pooch.

Still, the vast majority of folks who feed their pets fresh food simply make their own food at home, either doubling up their own recipes or making large batches of pet food over the weekends. (For example, holistic veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan and dog trainer Tonya Wilhelm recently released the book, “What’s For Dinner, Dexter?” with loads of home-cooked meal recipes for dogs.)

It may take a little adjustment, but finding fresh, healthy food for your pets is easier — and cheaper — than you might think. And if fresh-is-best for your two-legged family members, isn’t it time your four-legged friends made the switch, too?

Florida is Measuring Its Invasive Python Problem by the Ton

Over the last few decades, Florida’s invasive Burmese python problem has grown at a startling rate. The pythons, released either by accident or on purpose, have gained a foothold in the state and researchers are scrambling to find ways to minimize the damage they’re causing.

In its native range in Southeast Asia, the future of the species is questionable. The IUCN lists it as vulnerable to extinction. Yet in Florida, the non-native snakes are flourishing and causing the population of many native species, from birds to mammals, to plummet.

A study published last year by scientists from the University of Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed that pythons devoured 77 percent of the marsh rabbits tracked by the researchers. It was proof positive that the dramatic decline in marsh rabbits is due to the presence of invasive pythons. Researchers also suspect pythons are behind a decrease in deer populations.

Not only are the pythons responsible for decimating prey populations, but they’re also outcompeting native predator species. The effect the snakes have on the ecological balance of Florida’s wilderness can’t really be understated, and it’s a growing problem.

“Recent research has suggested that the predation pressure exerted by these pythons is unsustainable and causing big declines in native mammal populations. I see these declines in native animals as the biggest problem caused by the Burmese pythons,” Dr. David Steen of Auburn University told MNN.

As part of the response to the problem, researchers launched the Python Challenge. The event both raises public awareness about the problem and also gives researchers a chance to learn about the species.

This year, a Python Challenge in Collier County collected more than 2,000 pounds of snakes in three months in just that county. One of the snakes was a male measuring 16 feet long and weighing 140 pounds, which set a new state record for size. The researchers participating in the challenge — including Ian Bartoszek from Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Paul Andreadis from Denison University, and staff from the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the United States Geological Survey — used a strategy that is not only clever for catching more snakes but also revealed previously unknown behavior.

Fitting male pythons with radio trackers, the researchers essentially turned them into “snitch snakes” that they could follow during the breeding season.

“Pythons, and snakes in general, are very hard to find because they are highly camouflaged and don’t need to move around as much as warm-blooded animals,” explains Steen. “So, by following one snake during the breeding season it is likely that you’ll be able to come across many others that you never would have found otherwise.”

And the researchers certainly did. They could track the males to females, and they note that finding a pregnant female before she lays eggs can help make at least a dent in the year’s population of pythons.

“It’s not like I’m waving a flag and declaring victory. But we’ve removed over 2,000 pounds of snakes from a fairly localized area,” Bartoszek told the Miami Herald. “Through active searching and radio telemetry, one little snake busted up multiple breeding aggregations.”

Though the strategy may not signal the end of the python problem, it does signal progress.

Steen echoes this: “I do not think that we currently have the knowledge or the technology to eradicate pythons from Florida. But, this is an area of active research; what if someone were to develop a trap that uses chemical signaling? That could potentially be the trick to making a dent in their numbers.”