Florida to launch python harvest
And there is a $1,500 prize to hunter who kills the most snakes
The hunt will soon be on for the slimy, deadly pythons roaming the Everglades. This week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced a massive, month-long hunt for Burmese pythons in the state.
The 2013 Python Challenge kicks off on January 12 as an initiative to inform the public of the dangerous impact of the tens of thousands of snakes that are threatening endangered species in the national park.
The Python Challenge is held to help reduce the python population in the Everglades. Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus), with their beautifully patterned skin, rapid growth rate, and generally docile disposition, may be best known as the large snake of choice among reptile owners. Unfortunately these potentially huge constrictors are often poorly cared for, and sometimes released into the wild by irresponsible owners, where they adapt and feed in a more natural and organic way. So if you buy one as a pet, keep it home.
Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth (the name comes from the country Burma, also known as Myanmar). They can reach 23 feet in length and weighing up to 200 pounds, with a girth as big as a telephone pole. When young, they will spend much of their time in trees. However, as they mature and their size and weight make tree climbing unwieldy, they transition to mainly ground-level dwelling. They are also excellent swimmers, and can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air. See why they thrive in the Everglades?
Burmese pythons are carnivores, surviving primarily on small mammals and birds. They have poor eyesight, and stalk prey using chemical receptors in their tongues and heat-sensors along their jaws. They kill by constriction, grasping a victim with their sharp teeth, coiling their bodies around the animal, and squeezing until it suffocates. They have stretchy ligaments in their jaws that allow them to swallow all their food whole.
They are solitary animals and generally only seen together during spring mating. Females lay clutches of up to 100 eggs, which they incubate for two to three months. To keep their eggs warm, they continually contract, or shiver, their muscles.
They prey upon the endangered Key Largo wood rat and rare wood stork in the Everglades. Additionally, researchers say that massive numbers of rabbits, foxes, raccoons, opossums and bobcats have disappeared due to the snakes.
To avoid a complete depletion of the wildlife populations, hunters are invited to apply to join the contest. You must have a valid Florida hunting license and Wildlife Management Area permit to participate, pay a $25 fee and also complete an online training course on safety measures for hunting pythons: see http://myfwc.com/.
The grand prize of $1,500 will be distributed to the hunter (s) who kills the most pythons. Another reward of $1,000 will go to the person who hunts the longest snake.
The Commission's 2013 Python Challenge aims to educate the public on how endangered species in the national park are being depleted by the snakes. The contest ends on February 10 and is not just a hunt but a time to inform the public of the impact the snake is having on the natural habitat.
Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons are believed to be living in the Everglades, where they thrive in the warm, humid climate. While many were apparently released by their owners, others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been quietly reproducing since.
Burmese pythons can grow to be 26 feet long and reach more than 200 pounds, and they have been known to swallow animals as large as alligators, deers and ...pianos, just kidding. They and other constrictor snakes kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating their prey.
The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around the Everglades National Park since 2000. Among the largest captured so far this year was a 156-pound, 16.4-foot one captured earlier this month.
A study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that medium-size mammals are down dramatically — as much as 99 percent, in some cases — in areas where pythons and other large, non-native constrictor snakes are known to be lurking.
Scientists fear the pythons could disrupt the food chain and upset the Everglades' environmental balance in ways difficult to predict. The python has become an invasive species, and can live for 20 years.
The commission is encouraging hunters to use humane measures to execute the snakes. They suggest shooting the snake in the head with a firearm or decapitating it with a machete.