Fort Myers, FL

Florida's python problem is moving north

Jake Wells
pythonPhoto byDavid ClodeonUnsplash

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey says invasive pythons have decimated their food sources in the Florida Everglades and are spreading north. As of 2019-2021 the leading edge of the python invasion had moved to Fort Myers, the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee, and Palm Springs. Just how far north can they go? Nobody knows. They’re sensitive to cold but other research has suggested they could potentially survive as far north as Washington D.C.

Where did these snakes come from?

There are two main sources of the invasion: some snakes were accidentally released when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an exotic pet breeding facility in 1992, and their numbers have been increased by pet owners illegally releasing unwanted snakes into the wild. In the decades since, their numbers have exploded, resulting in sharp declines in prey species such as birds, raccoons, opossums, and even deer. In fact, pythons may very well replace alligators as the apex predators of the fragile Everglades ecosystem.

Burmese pythons, one of the main species being collected, can grow over 20 feet in length and weigh 200 pounds full grown. They can lay several hundred eggs a year that have high survival rates in the range of 70-90%. In captivity they live up to 30 years but in the wild 10 years is more typical.

They’re particularly difficult to find in the rough and inaccessible depths of the Everglades. Completely eradicating them is no longer thought to be possible, so efforts are focused on controlling their numbers and spread. Some of the methods used to control the snake population have included specialized traps, python hunting teams using tracking dogs, aerial surveillance to spot large snakes from the air, and outfitting male snakes with radio transmitters during mating season, since males tend to seek out the largest females.

Taking action with these snakes

Additionally, the Florida Python Challenge is an annual contest that incentivizes killing pythons for cash prizes. The latest contest took place Aug. 5-14, 2022, drawing almost 1,000 snake hunters from 32 states and two foreign countries. Dustin Crum won the $1,500 prize for the longest python killed in the 2022 hunt, measuring a little over 11 feet. And Matthew Concepcion took the grand prize of $10,000 for taking out 28 pythons.

Humanely killing pythons is legal in Florida, with the permission of the landowner. It is also allowed on the 25 Florida Wildlife Commission lands in South Florida. However, wildlife officials encourage citizens who are not trained and experienced in snake hunting to treat pythons the way they would stray alligators - keep your distance and report them to authorities for removal.

What do you think is the best way to deal with invasive snakes?

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Disclaimer: Please note that this article is created for educational and informational purposes.

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