How Burmese Pythons Took Over the Florida Everglades

How Burmese Pythons Took Over the Florida Everglades


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Starting in the 1980s, the swamps of the South Florida Everglades have been overrun by one of the most damaging invasive species the region has ever seen: the Burmese python. These massive snakes, which can grow to 20 feet long or more, with telephone-pole-sized girths, have all but decimated the region’s small- and medium-sized mammal population, wreaking havoc with the area’s ecosystem.

That ecosystem, the Florida Everglades, commands some 1.5 million acres—or about one-and-a-half times the size of Rhode Island. Save for a few bisecting roadways (US 41 and I-75), these desolate subtropical swamps are detached from the grid of American civilization. It’s hard to fathom that downtown Miami sits just 30 miles away from the vast wetlands that have become an adopted home for (at least) tens of thousands of huge snakes.

Because female pythons can lay 50-100 eggs per year—and the creatures have no natural predator in the region—their threat continues to escalate.

How the Burmese python took over Florida

Native to Southeast Asia, pythons were first brought to the United States as exotic pets. When the exotic pet trade boomed in the 1980s, Miami became host to thousands of such snakes.

Because pythons can grow to such unmanageable sizes, it was inevitable that some irresponsible owners would release the snakes into the wild. But most experts believe the pythons established a reproducing population in the Everglades sometime after Hurricane Andrew—a category 5 storm that devastated the state in August 1992. It was during that storm that a python breeding facility was destroyed, releasing countless snakes into the nearby swamps.

Today, authorities have no idea how many pythons occupy the area, in large part because they Everglades—in their vast inaccessibility—are so hard to conduct surveys in. And the mottled brown snakes blend well into the scrubby environment.

“It could be tens of thousands, or it could be hundreds of thousands,” says Rory Feeney, the bureau chief of land resources at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)—a federal agency that helps spearhead Everglades conservation efforts. The agency, Feeney adds, has been actively “dealing with invasive pythons for over a decade.”

Greatest ecological threat to the region

While only in South Florida for an ecological blink of the eye, the Burmese python has already devastated the mammal population of the Everglades, severely threatening its biodiversity. According to one study, between 1997 and 2012 the Everglades’ raccoon, opossum and bobcat populations dropped 99.3, 98.9, and 87.5 percent respectively. Meanwhile “marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits and foxes effectively disappeared,” the study said.

Another study, which fitted rabbits with radio transmitters and released them into the Everglades, found that 77 percent of those who died within the year met their fate at the deathly squeeze of the invasive serpent.

“We’ve found wading birds in the bellies of these pythons. We’ve found deer,” says Feeney.

Daniel Simberloff, a biologist and ecologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the editor-in-chief of Biological Invasions, succinctly described the Burmese python’s brutal efficiency in South Florida:

“The habitat of the Everglades—it’s perfect. It’s warm; they do really well in muddy, marshy habitats…and of course there’s this huge food base that was totally unadapted to deal with them. There was nothing to keep them from doing very well.”

Efforts to eradicate the pythons

As evidence of the python’s damaging spread became clearer, state and federal authorities began working together in an attempt to eradicate the python population. In 2010, the state made python pet ownership illegal.

Then in 2017, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the SFWMD introduced the Python Elimination Program, which hires people to hunt the swamps for snakes. These “python removal agents” are generally paid minimum wage, plus additional fees per foot—sometimes up to hundreds of dollars per snake. State and federal agencies are also upping the ante by hosting occasional competitive "python challenges," complete with cash prizes.

Feeney says the elimination program has removed almost 4,000 pythons from the wild, likely a small fraction of the estimated number of pythons still lurking the Everglades. But he has some cause for optimism since half those snakes have been females—which are capable of laying 50-100 eggs per year. Every female snake removed from the wild, he says, ”is a step in the right direction.”

The agency is also exploring more aggressive tactics, from canine detection to genetic warfare, which involves editing the genomes of snakes that are then released into the wild.

Simberloff says that scientists could theoretically “put a gene in there that causes all the offspring of a male that carries the gene to be male. Or causes all the female offspring to die. And these driven genes could really knock back the population.”

But until such technology is developed, the Burmese python will likely continue to squeeze the life out of the great Florida wild.

WATCH: Full episodes of Swamp People: Serpent Invasion online now.


Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

One of the biggest threats to a balanced ecosystem in the Everglades is the Burmese pythons. These snakes are an invasive species in the wetland. The python happens to love the Everglades, but this wetland cannot handle its presence. Pythons prey on almost anything in their path, and have been known to cause a large depletion in the rabbit, opossum, wading birds, racoons and other small populations population in the area. Its only predators are the American alligator and the Florida panther. However, these pythons can put up a fight and a recent video take by someone in the Everglades showed an alligator losing a fight with a python in water.

The state of Florida currently pays $8.10 per hour for people to hunt the Burmese pythons living in the Everglades. Up until June 1, there were 25 hunters killing pythons in the Everglades. These hunters use traps, dogs, public round ups, and radio-tracking implants to find and capture these snakes. According to the South Florida Water Management District, there could anywhere from 10,000 to even more than 100,000 pythons slithering around the Everglades they are not easy to find. The District is paying $50 for every snake caught, and an additional $25 if the snake is more than 4 feet in length. In April, the 50 th Burmese was caught. The hunt began on March 25.

With each capture, the District and hunters hope the populations of other species from birds and small mammals to deer will begin to rise. Not only to these pythons’ lower animal populations by eating them, but they harm the population who eats them! These snakes’ bodies hold high levels of mercury, which can poison any animal or reptile that eats them. The pythons’ presence in the Everglades is changing the entire ecosystem.

Earlier this year, the 2016 Python Challenge occurred from January 16 to February 14 it was held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. 106 pythons were turned in.

Unfortunately, these pythons found their way into the Everglades after being released by many people who had them as pets they are native to Asia. If you want to participate in next year’s challenge, click here. There are plenty of things you need to know and do before going python hunting.

If python hunting isn’t your thing, visit the Everglades in a much more relaxing way… on an airboat tour! This is your chance to see the Everglade’s wonderful wildlife that is still around, despite pythons and climate change issues. To book a tour, click the Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours page or call 239-695-3377.

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Longest Burmese python ever recorded in Florida history removed from Everglades

(WTXL) — A record-breaking 18 foot, 9 inch "behemoth' Burmese python has been removed from the Everglades in South Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) said that the record-breaking snake was found on Oct. 2 by Ryan Ausburn and Kevin Pavlidis along the L-28 Tieback Canal, about 35 miles west of Miami.

The 18 foot, 9 inch reptile broke the record for the longest Burmese python eliminated in Florida, beating the state's previous record of 18 feet, 8 inches from 2013.

“The removal of this behemoth Burmese python is a triumph for our native wildlife and habitats,” said FWC Commissioner Rodney Barreto.

According to FWC, Burmese pythons became established in Florida as a result of escaped or released pets. It is illegal to release nonnative species into the wild and can negatively impact Florida’s native wildlife and habitat.

So far, hunters in the joint python elimination program have removed more than 5,000 invasive pythons from South Florida’s Everglades ecosystem.

The public can help control nonnative invasive wildlife by reporting sightings to the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IveGot1 (888-483-4681), online at IveGot1.org or by using the free smartphone app IVEGOT1. If possible, take a picture and note the exact location of the sighting.


Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth. They are capable of reaching 23 feet or more in length and weighing up to 200 pounds with a girth as big as a telephone pole. When young, they will spend much of their time in the trees. However, as they mature and their size and weight make tree climbing unwieldy, they transition to mainly ground-dwelling. They are also excellent swimmers, and can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air.

Burmese pythons are carnivores, surviving primarily on small mammals and birds. They have poor eyesight, and stalk prey using chemical receptors in their tongues and heat-sensors along the jaws. They kill by constriction, grasping a victim with their sharp teeth, coiling their bodies around the animal, and squeezing until it suffocates. They have stretchy ligaments in their jaws that allow them to swallow all their food whole.


How the Burmese python took over Florida

Native to Southeast Asia, pythons were first brought to the United States as exotic pets. When the exotic pet trade boomed in the 1980s, Miami became host to thousands of such snakes.

Because pythons can grow to such unmanageable sizes, it was inevitable that some irresponsible owners would release the snakes into the wild. But most experts believe the pythons established a reproducing population in the Everglades sometime after Hurricane Andrew—a category 5 storm that devastated the state in August 1992. It was during that storm that a python breeding facility was destroyed, releasing countless snakes into the nearby swamps.

Today, authorities have no idea how many pythons occupy the area, in large part because they Everglades—in their vast inaccessibility—are so hard to conduct surveys in. And the mottled brown snakes blend well into the scrubby environment.

“It could be tens of thousands, or it could be hundreds of thousands,” says Rory Feeney, the bureau chief of land resources at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)—a federal agency that helps spearhead Everglades conservation efforts. The agency, Feeney adds, has been actively “dealing with invasive pythons for over a decade.”

NO REGULATIONS: Because the python is such a recognized nuisance to the Everglades ecosystem, it’s open season on hunting them. Hunters can kill Burmese pythons and …read more


Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) and other nonnative constrictors

Nonnative constrictors are much longer and heavier than any of Florida&rsquos native snakes, routinely growing to more than seven feet long. Their scales appear smooth, unlike the rough, textured scales of native water snakes.

Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) and Northern African pythons (Python sebae) can grow up to 20 feet long. Burmese pythons are tan in color with dark "giraffe" blotches on the back and sides that are irregularly shaped and fit together like puzzle pieces. The Northern African python looks similar, but the spots on its back usually connect and form a less-defined pattern. Also, the bellies of Northern African pythons are completely speckled, compared to Burmese pythons which have pale bellies. Both species have a dark arrowhead shape on top of the head and a dark wedge behind the eye.

The common or red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor) usually reaches lengths of 6&ndash10 feet. The body is marked down the back and sides with tan ovals. Toward the tail, the saddle-like ovals become narrow bands separated by reddish saddles.

Other species of nonnative constrictor that have been found in South Florida include the reticulated python (Python reticulatus), ball python (Python regius), green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), and yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus). These collections are likely of escaped or released pets and none of these species are believed to be reproducing or established in Florida.

Impacts

Burmese pythons are a threat to native wildlife and ecosystems of South Florida. Their presence has led to severe declines in Everglades mammal populations. They are known to eat imperiled species such as wood storks, Key Largo woodrats, and limpkins, as well as large animals such as alligators, white-tailed deer, and bobcats. They also compete with native predators for food, habitat, and space. Other species of nonnative constrictor would likely have similar impacts to Burmese pythons if they were to grow in number in South Florida. Thanks to the rapid response of wildlife managers, Northern African pythons have not invaded South Florida beyond a small area of Miami.

Where To Find Them

Burmese pythons have large breeding populations in Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier counties, mainly within and around the Florida Everglades. The common boa is established in a very small area within Miami. Northern African pythons are the target of eradication efforts in a small area on the outskirts of Miami. Pythons are typically found near wetlands or open bodies of water, and are most commonly seen while basking on roads, levees or embankments. Boas inhabit a variety of habitats and are more arboreal (tree-dwelling) than the other large constrictors established in Florida.


Green iguanas

In South Florida, these spiky, scaly residents manage to live a life of both repose and destruction. They sun on seawalls and patios, and sometimes splinter concrete when they burrow. They slaughter hibiscus and bougainvillea, and then leave nasty surprises behind in pools. They scramble infrastructure and the electrical grid, too: They’re said to be one of the largest contributors to power outages, behind vegetation and squirrels.

Florida’s green iguana issue is thought to have started in the 1960s, when the lizards—native to Mexico and Central and South America—were set loose by owners or escaped during hurricanes. Adult iguanas have no natural predators in the state, and they lay dozens of eggs a year. There’s nothing there to hold them back.

“There’s no real way to come up with a valid estimate of the number of green iguanas in Florida. But the number would be gigantic,” Richard Engeman, a biologist for the National Wildlife Research Center, recently told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “You could put any number of zeros behind a number, and I would believe it.”

To deter the lizards, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages residents to engage in what they call “humane harassment,” such as stringing up windchimes or hanging some CDs, which become annoying when the sun strikes them. Trapping and relocating the lizards is a no-go (they could pass disease around), but Floridians are allowed to kill the lizards by decapitating them, firing a pellet gun at their heads, or piercing their brains. Researchers from the University of Florida are fine-tuning strategies for making these tactics as painless as possible.


Florida must kill pythons. PETA has trouble with how.

Unlike other animals frequently found in the wild in Florida — manatees, panthers, sea turtles and so forth — no one is campaigning to save the pythons.

The giant snakes are considered an invasive species, not one that belongs in the Everglades. They have virtually wiped out all the raccoons, foxes and other small mammals that once thrived in the southern part of the River of Grass. A recent study has raised the question of whether they're also spreading new parasites among native Florida snakes.

The state has set out to kill off as many pythons as possible. None of the organizations that usually protest animal cruelty have complained about this — until now.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday fired off a letter to the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to question how one record-breaking python was killed.

A video that the water agency posted online, which the Miami Herald published on its website on Dec. 5, that showed two hunters who had captured and killed a record-setting 17-foot, 1-inch snake. One of them mentioned that the snake was shot in both the head and, later, the neck.

To PETA officials, that was one shot too many, prompting the letter questioning whether the snakes are being killed in a humane fashion. The correct way to kill a python, the letter pointed out, is with a single shot to the brain.

The letter noted that the Herald story also featured a photo of a 15-foot python shot by Miccosukee Indian Tribe police that had a bloody wound on its neck.

"First, if the hunter had correctly positioned the shot to the head, the animal would have died relatively rapidly and there would have been no need for a second shot on the neck later," PETA general counsel Lori Kettler wrote. "Second, . a python should never be shot in the neck since it's imperative that the animal's brain be destroyed immediately to avoid prolonged suffering."

What's depicted on the Herald web site "appears to be evidence of a disregard for the ethical obligation of the State and the hunters to ensure that the pythons do not suffer more than is necessary," Kettler wrote.

The letter brought promises from both the wildlife commission and the water agency to look into the matter.

But the hunter said it's much ado about nothing.

"Those snakes, man, they basically have a lot of nerves," explained Jason Leon, 28, of Palmetto Bay. "Doesn't matter if you cut the head off or blow the whole head off with a shotgun, it's still gonna keep moving for several hours.

"That snake was shot and killed the first time, and then we put a second bullet in it just to make sure it didn't open its mouth."

Leon, who has been hunting pythons for three years, said he couldn't understand why PETA would be so concerned about the fate of pythons.

"What about all the deer and alligators that those snakes are eating?" he asked. "Are they concerned about them too?"

State wildlife commission spokeswoman Susan Smith said that her agency is "in the process of reviewing and developing a response."

The water district released a statement defending its current hunting program, which pays a bounty to those who bring in dead snakes, noting that so far 750 have been killed. But it, too, pledged to look into the PETA complaint, "and will continue to enforce the rules of the program."

Inhabitants of Southeast Asia, the pythons became established in the Everglades in the 1990s thanks to pet owners who dumped them there when they got too big. Their presence became big news after a biologist named Skip Snow snapped a photo in 2002 that showed a python that had tried to swallow an alligator, and the dying gator apparently made it burst.

No one knows how many thousands of pythons live in South Florida, but scientists do know that they are as hard to get rid of as James Bond. They are ambush hunters, highly skilled at hiding, making them a challenge for even a trained hunter to find.

More than 1,000 hunters took part in the wildlife commission's first Python Challenge in 2013, and they caught a grand total of 68 snakes. A 2016 round-up brought in 106.

If caught and relocated, they find their way back. One returned to Everglades National Park from 22 miles away. They are not afraid of swimming through saltwater, either. Python eggs have been found in the Florida Keys.

The one thing the state cannot do is ask people to eat them, the way it does another invasive species, the lionfish. Pythons are too full of mercury to be safely consumed by humans.

Leon's 17-foot female capture is the record for the water district's ongoing python program. He also holds the all-time state record with a python that stretched 18 feet, eight inches


Hunting Burmese Pythons in the Dark of the Everglades

Florida often seems tame, a place of beach resorts, condos and Disney World. But not too far off the beaten path, often in our back yards, the wilder side of the state scampers, slithers and grows. In the new anthology, The Wilder Heart of Florida, 34 writers tell tales of the fragile, beautiful and strange nature around us and why it’s worth protecting. In this reprinted essay, originally titled “Feast of Pythons,” Isaac Eger heads out for a moonlit night of python hunting in the Everglades.

I asked, “How will I know when I see one?”

Somewhere deep in the Everglades, I pointed the spotlight at the night ahead of the truck that carried us along the crushed limestone path of Levee 28.

“It’s just one of those things you’ll know when you see it,” someone said.

The levee’s road ran so straight for so long that the light got gobbled up by all the dark and looked like it might go on forever. I pointed the light back to the levee’s banks, looking for something that wasn’t supposed to be there. We were python hunting. Trying to make Florida natural again.

The truck belonged to a real Florida boy, some generations deep, whose name, I shit you not, is Dusty Crum. Dusty, who lives in Sarasota, is a famous python hunter. He’s got his own TV show, except on the show they usually hunt during the day and on foot. But the snakes are most active at night. When all the other critters are out. There weren’t any other critters tonight but for an occasional palm rat. The snakes had eaten most everything else.

Dusty’s 38 years old, but you might confuse him for someone much older. Not because he looks old—though he’s got a lot of gray in his beard and long hair that falls under a dirty baseball cap—but because he looks like he belongs to the land, and the land in Florida seems ancient, like something the dinosaurs might have enjoyed.

I asked, “How many snakes are out here?”

“A lot,” Dusty said. “Hundreds of thousands.”

Between 100,000 and 300,000 Burmese pythons live in the Everglades.

Nowhere on earth do invasive species thrive like they do in Florida. It only took about 20 years for these pythons to eat damn near everything and usurp gators as the apex killer. Native species don’t stand a chance. I, too, am a Florida native—a fact I’ve begun to parade around now that Florida is literary hot shit. A fact that might not seem so meaningful since this is my first time actually setting foot in the Everglades. I’d driven through it, many times, on that 80-mile-long concrete lesion we call Alligator Alley.

But I’m here, trying to get my bona fides, hunting invasive Burmese pythons, trying to save what’s left of what Florida’s supposed to be because the Florida I grew up in turns out to be a counterfeit.

Florida is a strange land full of strangers. When I was young it was the tourists who were the foreigners, and all the little precious creatures and trees I loved from my childhood, these things that I believed were here before we had a name for anything, were true Florida nature. Then I learned that I’d loved invaders. Brown anoles from Cuba. Australian pines. Those tadpoles I’d gather after a hard rain, fed lettuce to and released back into the wild—those were Cuban tree frogs that swallowed our smaller native species whole. The once beloved things of my childhood I must reimagine as marauding aliens, corrupting the balance of what was supposed to be.

So here I am. Making up for it. Making Florida natural again.

Dusty’s girlfriend Natalie drove the truck. She chain-smoked Marlboro Golds while a beagle with a red bandana around its neck named Riley sat shotgun.

The truck ambled just fast enough so that the bugs didn’t bother us. You could still see them flying all around from the glow of the vehicle. The bugs turned white in the light we created and looked like a flurry of snow that didn’t know which way to fall. I sat in a chair propped up high in the middle of the bed of the truck. A long metal slat crossed the back of the truck so that two others could hang off either side and watch both the levee banks and quickly hop off if a python got spotted. Dusty was on the left, and his friend Gregory sat on the right.

“Back up, back up!” Dusty shouted at Natalie. He hit the roof of the truck with the flat of his palm.

The truck reversed. It was nothing. A fallen branch. Natalie put the truck back into drive.

“The pythons come up on the dry banks of the levee to lay eggs and hunt,” Dusty explained.

Dusty learned that from firsthand experience—he isn’t a biologist. He’s only been hunting pythons since 2012, when a TV show sponsored a python removal competition. Dusty and his friends have taken it upon themselves to save the Everglades. Before they got state permission to patrol the levee, they’d ride their bikes up and down the levee during the midday summer heat. The snakes they caught would be too heavy—sometimes over 100 pounds—to carry all at once, so they’d have to go back and forth, carrying maybe one at a time.

Now Dusty better knows the trade, and we chatted about the business end of things. How he might be able to turn a profit out of this endeavor of his. He’s skinning the snakes, turning their scaly hide into leather. Eating the meat. A Cambodian neighbor is turning the guts into some kind of traditional antiarthritic medicine. But the Asian market makes these snake pelts for pennies on the dollar, fattening them up in cages on snake farms like some kind of cold-blooded veal. It would be hard to imagine Dusty a rich man anyway. Always says he’s doing this for the land and not a buck. I believe him because he’s not cruel.

Dusty said, “It ain’t their fault. They’re beautiful creatures just doing what God created ’em to do. It’s not like I got anythin’ personal against ’em. I just care more about our native future.”

They have to kill them when they catch them. Used to be that Dusty would bring the snakes back to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials and they’d euthanize the pythons. Now he’s got to kill them in the field unless he runs into someone else who will do it for him. There’s a dime-sized kill spot on the top of their skull. A .22 rifle does it.

“It’s sad killing the little ones right when they hatch. They’re kinda cute,” Dusty said.

Besides the battery-powered spotlights in our hands, a bar of LED lights about two feet long was hooked to loose wires that led back to the engine of the truck.

“That’s some hucklebuck shit there, boy.” That’s how Dusty described his electrical setup. “Gotta make do with what you got,” he clarified. A lot of his truck he called hucklebuck, which is Floridian for jerry-rigged.

Not long into the journey down Levee 28, the lights died. Dusty and Greg popped the hood and peered into the smoking engine.

“Fuse is all fucked up,” said Greg.

“You done sabotaged me, son,” Dusty said, only sort of joking.

The moon swung just above our heads to the left, and the bugs started to land on us and taste our skin. The light rested in the bottom third of the moon like it was a bowl filled with white water.

“That means there are lots of fish ready to bite,” Greg told me. “And when the moon is gone, the snakes will come out.” He smiled.

There was a lot of optimism about this hunt.

The lights came back, and the truck went on.

It was hard to tell how much time had passed. So much of the Everglades was the same. A thick green loop interrupted only by the occasional dead amber of a fallen tree.

There were many sounds. Buzzing and clicking. Heavy drones and distant yelps. Sounds of things I didn’t know belonged to what.

I thought of all the things I didn’t know the name of. I knew the Burmese python, though. Why didn’t they evolve here if it serves them so well? It makes survival of the fittest seem inaccurate somehow. You can’t be too fit, I thought. Irony is, the Burmese python is threatened in its native habitat.

I never bothered to ask Dusty about politics. He wore a Don’t Tread On Me hat, and that could mean a few things. Conservation is conservative. I suppose when you live near the land, you’re going to feel it change first. Florida is changing, is changed. Dusty is trying to slow that change. But if you ask him if it’s possible to rid Florida of the pythons, he won’t kid you. The snakes are here to stay, are a part of Florida for however long Florida will be. News programs end their segments about Dusty with that affected cadence: These pythons . . . may have finally . . . met their match. But it’s only an act of God that could return the land. So fighting these snakes becomes symbolic. It’s a tangible opponent. The changing world is something beyond touch. You can’t be outside of a system and hold it while it holds you. But you can grab these snakes behind the mandible and drag them out of the world.

The truck veered off to the right. Natalie had fallen asleep. The three of us gave a holler and slapped the truck. We went down the embankment. I readied myself to abandon ship. She hit the brakes, and the truck stopped and then teetered. Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly steep incline. If we had flipped, Greg would have been a goner. We got the truck out and back onto the road.

There’s something uncomfortably familiar about the fervor behind hunting invasive species. I’d hunted lionfish before—another invader menacing the waters of Florida. I’d killed them with a sense of righteousness. Fish, I am obligated to shove this spear through your face. I’d always felt bad about killing anything—even a fish—but because I was told this was a wicked fish, killing it was good and felt good. A promotional poster for the 2019 Tampa Bay Spearfishing Challenge crossed my social media feed.

Underneath an illustration of the Skyway Bridge is an excessively muscular merman with familiar blond hair in front of a wall. He’s pointing a gun at a spooked lionfish. The guy who posted the picture wrote: This is my new favorite depiction of my America. Merman Trump defending the wall with his Glock.

It was after four in the morning, and we hadn’t found anything. Everyone seemed disappointed—probably on my behalf. They wanted me to see the problem for myself. It seemed odd wishing to see the thing. Wasn’t it better that they weren’t there?

As a sort of consolation, Dusty pulled out the 15-footer he’d caught the night before. The snake lay in a bag—I think it was a pillowcase. Dusty pulled it out of a compartment attached to the side of his truck. I expected him to flop the thing out onto the ground the way you would a sack of trash, but he was very gentle.

The snake was out and seemed to know it should escape, but it didn’t move with great desperation. She was beautiful. There was a hidden symmetry to the skin that my mind couldn’t quite figure out. Dusty told me to grab the snake by the back of the head, but not to grip her to death. He draped the snake over my shoulders. She was heavy and felt waxy and cool in my hands like she was impervious to the humidity. She was docile. Like she had given up, knew her fate and was at peace with that.

The author with a captured snake.

Dusty took pictures of me to show my friends.

The Florida we are trying to preserve is the Florida that serves us. I wondered what made me any more Floridian than this snake in my arms. Because I was born here? I thought about oranges. They aren’t from here, either. The Spanish brought them here from Europe, and the Portuguese brought them there from China 500 years ago. Now they’re on our license plates.

We brought her here and now we are trying to get rid of her. She’s just doing the only thing she knows how. It crossed my mind that I should let her go.

Excerpted from “Feast of Pythons (Homage to Harry Crews)” by Isaac Eger from The Wilder Heart of Florida: More Writers Inspired by Florida Nature, edited by Jack E. Davis and Leslie K. Poole. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2021. Reprinted with permission.


Burmese Pythons take over the Everglades in Florida

This article is rated R for contents of a disturbing nature.

The snake situation in Florida is literally giving me nightmares. The number of Burmese python snakes in the Everglades is greater than the population of the city of Naples. As if that's not enough, there is a shortage of coral snake antivenom. In my mind, the governor should declare a state snake emergency.

Burmese pythons didn't start here. They were originally brought to Southwest Florida as exotic pets from Southeast Asia. The story goes that during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a pet python was released or escaped into the Everglades. The Florida Everglades offered a habitat from heaven: plush wetlands, fresh water and cute fuzzy little animals ripe for the picking. The pythons have no natural predator in the Everglades and thus, they are now living fat and happy. They eat everything from pet cats to large alligators. For example, one python found in the Everglades was killed just after it had eaten a 76-pound deer.

The exact number of pythons is unknown. That's understandable since the snakes 1) slither and swim so fast they are hard to count and 2) who in their right mind would go out in the Everglades with the sole purpose of counting pythons?

Some experts believe that since the 1990s the python population has grown to a conservative estimate of 30,000. Given that the pythons have no natural enemies in the Everglades, if that same growth rate is used, the current population of 30,000 would grow to over 7 billion by 2032. That estimate assumes that half the current Burmese python population is female and each female's clutch produces eight surviving eggs. Hopefully things like natural selection will curb the python reproduction otherwise there will be more snakes than humans.

An average python can grow up to 20 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds. If you lined up all of the existing pythons head to tail, they would stretch all the way across Interstate 75 between Naples and Miami. The governor should change the name of Alligator Alley to Python Alley.

Scientists tagged some of the crafty pythons and discovered that the snakes were actually swimming beyond the brackish waters of the Everglades and into the salt water of the Florida Bay. A recent article published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology suggested that the pythons could be able to swim between the Key islands.

That's not all. There are 400 species of snakes in Florida but the good news is that only eight of the 400 are venomous. The bad news is that one of the eight venomous snakes, the coral snake, has life-threatening venom. The worst news is that if you are bitten by the coral snake, common to Southwest Florida, you're doomed. There's so little antivenom left in Florida you'll likely have to be intubated and resuscitated until the poisonous venom wears off, which can take weeks.

The Everglades are one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In my opinion (which is in no way scientific) the pythons are mucking up the Everglades ecosystem and are endangering its position on the list of seven natural wonders. At this rate, the seven natural wonders may turn into the six natural wonders of the world.
I think someone (not me) should pack up some coral snakes in a box marked "exotic pets" and send them on a one-way ticket back to Burma (Myanmar).

3 comments:

Has this been tried?--One of the following seems like an effective solution, without harming other animals.
Envision a box-like frame,, it can be flat(say 8 Feet x 1 Foot x 6"high), or could be cube-shaped,, or perhaps something coiled-shaped with a large opening on each end suggesting an animal burrow,, but however, it needs to have a restricted interior travel route of about 7 feet, and be inviting to a python of 7 feet or larger. Inviting could mean warmed from the sun(in cooler weather), or protected, or perhaps baited by scents that pythons like. Inside, about 15" apart, are 4 pressure-sensitive*, or light-sensitive(day/night electric eyes), or mechanical equivalent, over a 6 foot length(15" x 4 = 6 feet). If using a power source, it would be a battery or solar battery, or electricity if available. No animal except a snake of at least 7 feet could activate all four pressure-sensitive, light-sensitive, or mechanically-sensitive points at the same time. When that happens, the trap is sprung and kills(it could kill mechanically, or other method, or could just trap the animal). Any of these devices would not be expensive, particularly if built in mass, and many could be placed over a wide land area.
(In this age of wireless communication, an image of the snake could also be transmitted, to ID a snake of any size).

What about other snakes? Might it kill those too? Maybe that is a bonus,, but if not--because of the length of the trap, with the 4th pressure point placed 6 feet from the 1st, it could only be sprung by snakes of at least 7 feet--not by snakes smaller than pythons, which is most snakes.
(my suggested dimensions could be changed, and there may be other known ways to discourage entry by snakes other than pythons).

If the problem with pythons was opened up to all the inventive minds out there--a kind of competitive event--the most practical method would soon be presented to the state wildlife people trying to solve the problem.

A recent Federal ban on importing several large constrictor snakes and a new study detailing the despairing loss of mammals in the Florida Everglades have renewed interest in the presence of wild pythons in the south Florida. Now comes a new book that explores the issue like never before. Released earlier this week, Snake in the Grass: An Everglades Invasion details the decade-long struggle to understand the implications of an Old World predator breeding freely in the New World.

Over the years, author and south Florida naturalist Larry Perez noticed mounting interest as the larger-than-life story unfolded around him. “People visiting the area have always inquired about alligators and panthers,” says Perez, “but in the past, big disasters in the Everglades have also managed to pique people’s curiosity for years after the fact.” And so it was following both the passage of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in 1996. ”But over the past decade,” says Perez, “a very different tragedy has really stolen the spotlight. Today, everyone just wants to talk about pythons.”

In his new book, Snake in the Grass: An Everglades Invasion, Perez relates the full story of the introduction, discovery, and implications of wild Burmese pythons in the Everglades. “Since the early 2000s, the public has been treated to tantalizing stories about alligator-eating pythons and rogue snakes pulled from beneath storage sheds,” Perez says, “but the python story really can’t be appreciated through occasional soundbites. I felt the story of the planet’s most notorious biological invader deserved to be explored in a greater relief.”

In writing Snake in the Grass, Perez draws upon history, science, and a decade of personal experience to craft the most comprehensive account of the python plague to date, exploring controversial theories surrounding the arrival, potential spread, and possible impacts of nonnative pythons to both native wildlife and people. In the course of 200 tightly-written pages, Perez relates how pythons have managed to infiltrate far-flung corners of south Florida, make meals of iconic Florida wildlife, and successfully evade all attempts at control.

For all the press pythons have received, Perez is careful to note that they are but one of literally hundreds of invasive species that have established a looming presence in south Florida. “Burmese pythons are just a drop in the bucket, but they are particularly compelling and serve as a good proxy to help understand the larger issue of invasive species and our related attitudes and responses. And that’s important because there is a constant and unending flood of potentially damaging new invaders continually making themselves at home in our area and across the country.”

That presented a challenge for Perez. “There are new developments in the story all the time,” he says, “new science, new species, new discoveries. It wasn’t easy figuring out how to wrap up the book.” Though Snake in the Grass was only released this week, Perez is already working on an update.

The title is currently available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, and other retailers.

Thank you for your fine article in the Bonita Daily News about the Everglades' python crisis, "I have my own venom for snakes."

It's about time someone got alarmed about Burmese pythons -- giant, top-predators reproducing like rabbits in our midst.

The python not only fills a vacant ecological niche, but more ominously does so at the very top of the food chain. Recent biological research suggests that the dominant predator has enormous influence on entire make-up of a region's flora and fauna.

There seems to be no serious government program underway to get rid of these pythons. Millions are being spent on acquiring Everglades property and improving water flow -- all commendable acts -- but we are just creating, benignly, the world's largest snake playpen.

If no serious plans are underway to attack the python, I agree with you that unserious plans are in order. I applaud your suggestion to retaliate against Burma (should we call it Myanmar?) by sending surprise packages from Florida containing coral snakes. But as commendable as this plan is, it does nothing to reduce our growing python population.

How about a weekly "kill a python day?"

Under Mao, Chinese peasants got rid of the rats and flies, or so we were told. No accounting for the cost in peasants, but in the Cultural Revolution, who cared?

We could do the same here, using Florida's elderly population. Imagine, thousands of old folks, supported by canes and walkers, mushing through the Everglades, driving masses of pythons into wood chippers manned by Hispanic gardeners. We could finance these "python drives" by erecting bleachers and selling tickets to tourists. Outstanding snake killers could fight pythons as gladiators. Think of the reality TV possibilities! Americans, united at last in a common purpose!

I suppose we could lose a few old people to drownings and the occasional python embrace. But just as Mao never missed a few million peasants, can't we likewise offer up a few senior citizens for the common good?

In anti-reptile solidarity,

Michael Crutcher
Bonita Springs
(still no pythons on the local golf courses, but we're waiting…)



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