Investigating the Detectability of Burmese Pythons in South Florida

Joseph Cerreta, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
William Austin, Warren County Community College
David Thirtyacre, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Worldwide
Scott Burgess, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Worldwide
Peter Miller, Warren County Community College


Burmese pythons are an invasive, non-native species of snake to southern Florida and attempts at eradicating the snakes had yielded mixed results. The current rate of detection had been reported as 0.05%. The purpose of this research project was to determine if a UAS equipped with a near-infrared (NIR) camera could be used to detect pythons at a higher rate than compared to a RGB camera. The approach involved collecting 40 images from RGB and NIR cameras, over carcass pythons at flying heights of 10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-feet. A likelihood ratio consisting of a true positive rate over false positive rate was calculated from 101 participant survey responses. Participants were able to detect pythons from an NIR camera with greater likelihood (M = 6.05, SD = 1.94) than a RGB camera (M = 4.74, SD = 1.32), t(10) = 1.77, p = .048. The data suggests that survey participants could correctly detect pythons in images containing the pythons at a 1.3x greater rate with the NIR sensor than with the RGB sensor. Also, a true positive rate (TPR) showed the observation rate of correctly detecting a python when one was present in the image. The NIR camera images had higher TPR rates compared to RGB images. The largest difference between camera types was observed at the 50 feet flying height over an outstretched python; there was a 35% increase in participant detection accuracy using the NIR camera compared to the RGB camera. These results suggest that a UAS equipped with an NIR camera flying between 10 and 50 feet in a nadir-oriented position of 90 degrees can be used to detect pythons. Using a UAS equipped with an NIR camera over levees searching for exposed pythons may help biologists responsible for managing these invasive species determine if a python is present.