theParklander

Snakes on The Loose!
Burmese pythons are eating their way through
The Everglades' animal kingdom

By Dan Mackey / May 1, 2017

Living out west in Coral Springs, Heron Bay, Parkland, and Boca Raton brings numerous natural rewards: an amazing panoramic view of the Everglades with beautiful sunsets and incomparable bird watching.

It also means sharing that beauty with wildlife. Bobcats, opossums, raccoons, and deer are valued as our unique natural treasure. Yet according to state wildlife officials, those very species are being wiped out by a singularly hungry snake that doesn't belong here: the Burmese python. Rabbits and foxes already have shockingly vanished wherever pythons now dominate, say wildlife researchers.

In the 1980's when pet snakes like pythons grew too large to keep, their owners "set them free" or they released themselves. It's also believed that many more escaped when recent hurricanes battered South Florida's pet stores and exotic animal importer warehouses.
Snakes

Before long, these pesky Southeast Asian natives established themselves in the Everglades National Park, rapidly breeding and expanding their range northward.

Who can forget the unbelievable media images of huge pythons attacking and eating grown alligators, usurping the mighty gator's place as top predator in the vast River of Grass?

Special hunts for Burmese pythons have proved ineffective because the Glades offer a very similar habitat to their home where they easily hide in tall grass.

Now researchers estimate there at least 100,000 of them slithering around in South Florida. Each adult interloper reproduces an average of 30 - and up to 100 - voracious little pythons every year into Florida's fragile ecosystem. They have gobbled up untold numbers of native animals and probably will never be eradicated, according to scientists who now only hope to keep their numbers in check.

Burmese pythons are non-venomous. Instead, they constrict their prey, literally squeezing the life out of them before slowly swallowing them whole. They are one of the most feared species of snakes because they can grow to more than 20 feet long and weigh 250 pounds. And the fact that they do not fear people, unlike most snakes, makes them that more dangerous.

So, what should you do if you encounter a Burmese python in your yard? Your best choice is to just let it be. Most snake attacks are a result of the untrained trying to capture or kill them. Odds are it's probably just passing through the area anyway. So give it some time and space to do just that.

If you have small children or pets that play outside, never leave them unsupervised. To exclude pythons and other snakes, eliminate places for them to breed and hide (remove brush piles, fill in under decks and sheds, plug holes and other openings in the home exterior, keep your grass trimmed).

And always remember: Though you may fear them, most snakes are harmless and they all benefit us by eating unwanted bugs, mice, and rats.

If the python must be removed, call a humane animal control professional or a wildlife rehabilitation center. Report any Burmese python sightings to the Florida Wildlife Commission hotline: 1-888:IVE-GOT1 (1-888-483-4681) or visit Ivegot1.org.

Dan Mackey is a freelance writer who lives in Coconut Creek.




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