Non-native Burmese Pythons have established a breeding population in South Florida since their accidental introduction in 1992. They are one of the most concerning invasive species in our state, but especially in our Everglades National Park. Pythons compete with native wildlife for food, which includes mammals, birds, and other reptiles. For example the Florida Panther; what number of the big cats remain in the region are not doing well and seriously changing up their hunting habits due to competition by the big, invasive reptiles. Severe mammal declines in Everglades National Park, according to studies conducted by the United States Geological Survey, have been linked directly to the Burmese pythons.
The most severe declines in our native species have occurred in the southernmost regions of Everglades National Park, where the pythons have been established the longest. A thorough study of the impact from the non-native snakes, showed that the raccoon population has dropped 99.3 percent, opossums have dropped off by 98.9 percent and even bobcats have disappeared by as much as 87.5 percent since the initial impact studies conducted in 1997. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits and foxes have effectively disappeared altogether in some regions of the park.
The mammals that have declined most significantly, have been regularly found in the stomachs of Burmese Pythons which have been removed from our Everglades National Park and elsewhere in Florida. Raccoons and opossums, the most common found in the python’s bellies, often forage for food near the water’s edge, which is exactly the spot most of the big snakes frequent when on the hunt. Any unsuspecting prey that wanders too close to the water’s edge is targeted.
I first began getting involved in hunting the pythons in 2015 on a challenge by one of my readers from a monthly column I write for Woods n’ Water Magazine. I searched for as much information as I could on the snakes and finally made contact with members of the South Florida Water Management District’s Python Eradication Team. Once I made it down and saw with my own eyes, the seemingly ghost-town from what I’d remembered about the Everglades, from having guided many hog hunts in the area back during the 1990s, I wanted to do more. Well, the fact that it’s so incredibly fun helps too.
There’s no real stealth involved, you can blast music, get loud and have fun. Being at the top of the food chain with very, very few natural predators, they do not frighten off. Instead, they’re more prone to hear you coming and simply freeze on the spot, trusting in their incredible camouflaged skin pattern to prevent you from detecting their presence.
That camouflage of theirs is likely the best I’ve ever seen, you’d be surprised at how little of such huge snakes you will see. That’s one mistake I made on my first hunts, struggling to actually spot them; I was looking for the snake. I finally learned to train my eyes not to look for a snake, but for the tiniest piece of one. Very often nothing more than what appears to be a glint of water reflecting off of glass. Stop, go back and scrutinize that spot. Often, it’s just discarded trash; every now and then, it turns out to be a Burmese Python!
There have been some tremendous catches taking place recently and I’m itching to get back down to the area and hunt some more. The big females are on the move, swollen with eggs and looking for areas to establish a nest. Each female can lay over a hundred eggs, so now is the time of year to make the biggest impact!
I absolutely am grateful to each of you for reading my column each week here and welcome any questions or comments to me at [email protected] God Bless and good hunting!