A year or so ago a photo of a python that ate a gator down in the Everglades – and apparently exploded a day or so later from a serious case of indigestion – was all over the Internet. What some may not know is that, primarily due to limp-brains who have released exotic snakes into the wild, pythons now pose a serious threat to endangered species such as native mangrove fox squirrels and wood storks. A recent article in the St. Pete Times claims that experts believe “tens of thousands” of the big snakes are now found throughout the Park. Not sure if I agree with that estimate – over the years I’ve seen many moccasins and rattlesnakes and even a few coral snakes, but no pythons. But it’s clear that they are a prolific species we need to contend with. This excerpt from the article grabbed my attention:
“For now, Burmese pythons are known to be breeding only in the Everglades. But there is no doubt they are moving. On one 1,500-acre farm at the edge of the Everglades near Homestead, a farmer preparing his fields in 2005 found 22 of them, most of them chopped up by his plow. Two years later, there were 55.”
When I lived in Costa Rica with my family many moons ago, my dad spent most of his days at our farm on the edge of the rain forest, where he dug out a muddy runway for his airplane, built bridges across swollen rivers and harvested rice from the rich alluvial soil. His crew used a big threshing machine for that work, and from time to time the gears would grind and the motor would shudder and quit – usually as the result of a thick python stuck between the threshing teeth. His accounts of the big reptiles always had such an exotic flair befitting that true wilderness. Crazy to think that the same thing is happening only a short drive from my door here in Florida.
Some quick facts: By the time they are two years old, Burmese pythons can be over eight feet long and weigh 50 pounds. In the wild, with an ample food supply, they can reach lengths of 20 feet or so, and weigh over 200 lbs. An 8-foot long python has the strength to kill a human, and a number of deaths have been recorded in various countries, most of them by snakes of under 13 feet in length. Now, hyping these snakes as “man killers” is overstatement. But ignoring their potential in that regard is just as stupid. So…the next time you fish the Glades and glide into the mangroves to retrieve that $7 plug, don’t just scan the water for gators.
To add to the concern, the snakes are migrating north. Given their preference for hot weather, they don’t pose a threat to northern states. But it remains to be seen how far they can spread through the southern part of the U.S.