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UCF researchers develop new camera to detect invasive pythons

Invasive snakes wreaking havoc on the Everglades

UCF researchers work on camera designed to spot pythons better than the human eye. Photo credit: UCF Office of Research. (News 6)

ORLANDO, Fla. – A team of researchers at the University of Central Florida is developing a new camera to find invasive pythons lurking in Florida’s natural habitats.

UCF scientists teamed up with the non-profit Interuniversity Microelectronics Center, IMEC, an international research and development company, to create the camera.

Researchers from UCF said the camera is more effective than the human eye because it broadens the range of sight in the electromagnetic spectrum to about 850 nanometers versus the 400 to 700 nanometers that humans can see.

In short, the camera can detect pythons better than the naked eye.

The camera’s broaden range of sight makes it harder for pythons to hide within the landscape. Thermal imaging, typically used to detect animals in the wild, doesn’t work because snakes are cold blooded. The camera captures a negative image, so the snakes appear white against a black background.

These cold-blooded creatures are not native to Florida and are quickly becoming the apex predator, or rising to the top of the food chain, in the Everglades since they have no natural predators and breed so quickly.

“I did not realize how important this work was before I started working on this project,” Ron Driggers, a professor in UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics, said in a news release. “There are roughly 150,000 pythons or more in the Everglades, and it is getting worse rapidly.”

Bill Graf, a regional representative with the South Florida Water Management District, said pythons are a problem to the environment because the snakes are so difficult to locate.

“Obviously we are looking for a needle in a haystack, but first and foremost we have to find the haystack,” Graf said.

Graf said pythons are a threat to the Everglades and native Florida species such as rabbits and squirrels.

“It’s a huge impact to the Everglades, and like I said, we as a society have dedicated ourselves to Everglades restoration, and this is, you know, a generational activity," Graf said. “This is something that is going to expand my career and whoever fills my shoes, their career. And now you’ve got a python that’s seriously affecting the success of that.”

You can learn more about pythons in the Everglades by watching ClickOrlando.com’s “Florida’s Fourth Estate” in the video player below.