2016 Python Challenge Champion Bill Booth conducted successful trial run in locating pythons via a thermal imaging-equipped drone.
Snake hunters going after the invasive Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) in Florida have another potential tool to help them locate the elusive reptile: infrared thermal-tracking drones. Bill Booth, winner of Florida’s 2016 Python Challenge began working with VolAero, a drone tech start up based in Miami, in an effort to better hunt the reptiles.
"Using a thermal drone is like having x-ray vision," Booth told the Miami New Times. "Even if a snake is 16 inches long, camouflaged, and not moving, the drone can help us see it."
Early this month, Booth and thermographer Bart Bruni teamed up with the drone maker to look for the reptiles at night using the start ups, infrared tracking drones.
Bruni told the Miami New Times that even though the snakes are cold blooded, they do retain unique heat signatures when they are gravid. And because infrared thermal imaging measures different temperatures, he was able to calibrate the thermal drone to differentiate between the reptile’s body heat and the ground.
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"Thermography is a very technical science, but if the cameras are set properly, you can find snakes in their reproductive state," Bruni said. "Considering a single clutch will have between 100 to 120 eggs, 77 percent [of which] survive, thermal imaging can help hunters expand their tracking range."
Bruni believes that the use of drones to control the population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades can make hunting them safer. Rather than have hundreds of hunters walking around looking for the elusive reptile, the state "needs only five teams of hunters going out in airboats and drones, while a group of thermographers sends them GPS coordinates of where the snakes are."
They apparently had a successful trial run and were able to capture a very large python using the drone outfitted with thermal cameras. Only time will tell if using the drone will help to mitigate the population of the Southeast Asian snake in the Everglades.