Miami-Dade Needs Help Getting Rid of These Damn Invasive Super-Pythons

Burmese python
Burmese python Photo by William Warby / Flickr
South Florida is a dangerous place. Besides hurricanes and the threat of sea-level rise, the area is also home to an array of deadly animals, insanely bad drivers, iguanas that fall from trees when the temperature drops, and snakes — lots and lots of snakes. There are so many snakes, in fact, that Miami-Dade County commissioners are ready to beg Congress and the Florida Legislature for more money to exterminate the creatures.

This Tuesday, the county commission will hear a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Dennis Moss urging Congress and the state Legislature to provide more funding for existing efforts to capture Burmese pythons, an invasive species native to Southeast Asia. The gargantuan snakes have been decimating the Everglades for years, snapping up so much of the wetlands' native prey there's hardly any left for natural predators such as panthers and alligators.

Desperate to stem the destruction, the South Florida Water Management District pays hunters to capture the invasive pythons, as does the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission through its Python Removal Contractor Program. Snake hunters have caught more than 1,900 Burmese pythons through the District's Python Elimination Program since March 2017. But those efforts haven't been enough to stop the top predator from swiftly repopulating and destabilizing the ecosystem. Burmese pythons can lay 50 to 100 eggs at once. They grow up to 23 feet long and weigh as much as 200 pounds.

In the 1980s, irresponsible pet owners released their giant snakes into the Florida wilderness, setting off a terrible chain of events that ultimately allowed tens of thousands of pythons to take over the Everglades. Earlier this year, Michael Kirkland, an invasive-animal biologist for the South Florida Water Management District, told the German newspaper Deutsche Welle: "We have recorded a 99 percent reduction of fur-bearing animals... They are now preying on wading birds and even the occasional alligator."

Because the pythons have essentially killed all the prey in Miami-Dade, Everglades National Park, and the surrounding areas, Kirkland said he expects the snakes to expand their territories to the north and west. Burmese pythons have been known to consume animals as large as deer whole.

Worse, researchers recently discovered that some Burmese pythons are actually hybrids that have the DNA of both the Burmese python and the Indian rock python. The mix of genetic traits has made the invading snakes even heartier.

To date, the South Florida Water Management District's program has killed two miles' worth of invasive snakes that weigh more than 20,000 pounds combined. The elimination program dispatches 25 carefully chosen professional python hunters to snatch up the snakes for an hourly rate of $8.50, plus $50 for pythons measuring longer than four feet and another $25 for each foot over four feet. If a hunter eliminates a nest of eggs, that's an extra $200.

The District's python-hunting program seems to be making an impact, so county commissioners would really like more funding, please, before the snakes get to us. If the resolution is approved Tuesday, a copy will be shared with the Florida congressional delegation, the governor, the state Senate president, the state House speaker, and several other politicians. The resolution would also direct the county's federal and state lobbyists to push for more snake-stopping money.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor