Monday, March 19

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).


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Dear Virginia,

    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…)