Florida’s Python Challenge Nets 2,000 Pounds of Invasive Snakes

For the second year in a row, snake hunters from dozens of states ascended on Florida to take part in the 2016 Python Challenge, a collaborative month-long effort of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The goal: Round up as many invasive Burmese pythons as possible by whatever means are appropriate.

When the dust settled, 106 snakes, weighing a collective total of more than 2,000 pounds, were removed from Florida's wetlands and other areas. The biggest haul was a 13-foot, 8.7-inch behemoth who tipped the scales at a massive 140 pounds. Cash prizes were awarded for hunters snagging the most and the biggest snakes.

Burmese pythons, which are endemic to South Asia, are a problem in Florida, having been first recorded in the 1980s in Everglades National Park. Scientists are unsure how the pythons entered the ecosystem in Florida, although some specimens that escaped from a breeding facility during 1992's Hurricane Andrew may have contributed to the problem.

Researchers say that the population of these uninvited reptilian guests has boomed to the point that, as of 2016, they are one of the state's apex predators. They pose a real threat to many of Florida's already threatened native species, including the wood stork and the Key Largo wood rat, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the snakes from interstate trade and import. The snakes were once a popular exotic and unregulated pet.

Biologists have gotten creative in their efforts to curtail the python problem in Florida. One such endeavor involves attaching GPS units to snakes, assisting with locating python burrows. In some instances, these GPS-equipped reptiles led biologists to pregnant female pythons with clutches of more than two dozen eggs.

The Burmese python's assault on Florida's Everglades is profound. The snake and its voracious appetite, coupled with its prolific capacity to reproduce, has caused an upset in the fragile Everglades ecosystem, all but decimating local populations of rabbits and foxes and causing a massive blow to local opossums, bobcats, deer and raccoons.

Initiatives such as the Python Challenge help, but researchers estimate that tens of thousands of these invasive reptiles may lurk in Florida's marshes and swamps, making the 106 taken out of circulation during the hunt just a small drop in a very large bucket. Learn more about how invasive species damage ecosystems.

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