Mating season is now over and, without a doubt, hundreds, if not thousands, of Burmese python hatchlings are getting their first taste of life here in South Florida.
This invasive species of snake has flourished from Miami on the east coast all the way to Collier County and even into parts of the Florida Keys. When I asked a Park Ranger not too long ago how many are found in our state, his answer was: “There are as many as there are,” not alluding to a number of 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000.
Just this past spring in Collier County a male python, called a Sentinel, named Argo led researchers to a 100 pound female about to lay eggs. The female was captured and Argo was rereleased into the wild. This Sentinel was sporting a tracking device and he would lead scientists with the Naples-based Conservancy of Southwest Florida to an ever better find.
Three days later, and about a half mile away, Argo led the tracking team to a 115-pound female surrounded by seven other males. Known as an “aggregation” this gathering was the most pythons found in a single location in the western Everglades…ever!
Efforts to remove the species have been attempted in several manners. Not too many years ago several “python roundups” were created whereby citizens were trained to catch these elusive critters and then they were allowed to hunt them and, hopefully, capture them as well. For two consecutive years over 1,000 people tried their hand at this game and, each year, only 100+ were brought in.
Traps are set in the wild as well and have been moderately successful. The best results have been in the most recent few years as a select group of 25 hunters have been paid to catch and kill these predators. In mid May the 1,000th python was brought in for its bounty. The gentleman who captured this milestone trophy has personally collected more than 110 in the last 17 months.
Of the 1,000+ pythons harvested by these hunters, about half are females. The ladies can lay up to 70 eggs in one season. Five hundred females laying 70 eggs each equals an astonishing 35,000 potential live young that are now out of the equation. As a reminder, that’s just in the last two years.
Initially started in Miami-Dade County the hunting program is now operable in Broward and Collier counties as well. Ask yourself the reason more territory needs to be covered and the obvious answer is food. Some scientists estimate that more than 95% of the Everglades’ native mammal population has been eliminated by these unwelcome suitors. The lack of mammals also affects some native animals as well, such as panthers and alligators.
In a conversation with Collier County scientists it was noted that 30 marsh rabbits were captured and tagged with radio transmitters to study their movement. Within a matter of months nearly all were found in the stomachs of pythons. Personally, I used to see these rabbits along the side of the road in recent years as I travelled to the Big Cypress area of the western Everglades but sightings now are very, very limited.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is now allowing public participation of Burmese python removal. They can now be humanely killed on private lands at any time with the landowner’s permission and no permit is required and FWC encourages people to remove and kill pythons whenever possible.
Burmese pythons have been found throughout Everglades National Park, Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental area and adjacent areas. Recently they have been found in Big Cypress National Preserve and Collier-Seminole State Park as well. Personally, I have verification from scientists of python signs at the Marsh Trail, just south of Collier-Seminole Park.
Fiddler’s Creek subdivision was the scene of a recent battle between and python and an alligator right on the golf course. Across the road, Shell Island Road has been a hot spot for sightings.
It seems that progress is being made to take more of these invaders out of the wild. The jackpot question is, “Are measures being taken quickly enough to stabilize or reduce the python population?” The answer… you fill in the blank.
Bob is a naturalist for a dolphin survey team on board the Dolphin Explorer, departing daily from Rose Marina. He is also an Everglades guide, author of two books and a regular speaker at local venues. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob loves his wife very much!