Floridians sometimes like to joke that our state is the American version of Australia. Not only is the state wild and rugged in a unique way, but it also has a lot of unique and sometimes dangerous fauna, such as alligators, poisonous toads, panthers, and even rattlesnakes and spiders. With all of these animals, does Florida also have pythons?
Florida does have pythons. Ecologists estimate that there are somewhere between 30,000 and 300,000 Burmese pythons in South Florida. However, these pythons are a harmful and invasive species that are not native to Florida and are not a natural part of our ecosystem.
Are these pythons dangerous to people? How big do they get, and where do they live? Where did they come from? Can you hunt them or kill them, or are they protected? Discover the answers to these questions and more in this post.
Pythons in Florida
The species of python found in Florida is the Burmese python, formally known as python bivittatus. Burmese pythons are one of the largest species of snakes in the world, commonly growing to 18 feet or more in length.
The heaviest Burmese python on record was a snake named Baby, who at the time of her passing weighed a whopping 403 pounds and was 18 feet 10 inches in length. Burmese pythons can grow as long as 23 feet, though specimens of that size are pretty uncommon.
Burmese pythons, as the name would suggest, originated in southeast Asia. So how did a snake that originated on the other side of the planet get to Florida? While Burmese pythons are excellent swimmers, they began populating the Everglades and south Florida after Hurricane Andrew demolished Miami in 1992, destroying a python breeding facility and zoo and effectively releasing hundreds of snakes into the wild.
This population was supplemented by the import of Burmese pythons as pets, a practice banned in 2012. Once sold as novelties for $20 or less, it is widely believed that many snake owners likely released their pets into the wild once they became too big or costly to care for.
But is that really a problem? After all, Florida has dozens of native snakes like the rattlesnake and corn snake. So could some escapees from a zoo and some released pets really cause disruption to the whole state? How bad of a problem could a few more snakes really be?
The answer is that Burmese pythons are a huge problem. Because pythons are not native to the ecosystem and because they are skilled hunters, they are able to outcompete native species. They also have a ravenous appetite and will eat anything from possums and rabbits to deer and even alligators. As a result, native mammal populations have declined sharply in the presence of these invasive pests.
Phenomenal Florida Fun Fact: While most reptiles do not have a reputation for involved parenting, Burmese pythons actively incubate their clutches of eggs, using rhythmic muscle vibrations to warm their eggs.
Let’s not forget that Burmese pythons can become enormous. While the species can exceed 20 feet in length, the largest specimen ever caught in Florida was 18 feet 9 inches long!
Pythons are also good breeders, laying clutches of about 100 eggs once a year and living up to 20 years. Even accounting for the fact that most of those 100 eggs won’t make it to adulthood, these snakes are highly successful at reproducing. This augments their destructive status in the ecosystem.
On the other hand, Florida is a notoriously tough state, and the native alligators have been known to kill and eat pythons. That said, it’s unlikely that the gators will eat enough of these snakes to get rid of the darn things.
Has a python ever killed someone in Florida? While Burmese pythons are certainly capable of killing adult humans, there are no documented cases of wild pythons attacking or killing people in the state. All python-related human deaths in Florida have been caused by pet snakes, such as the infamous and tragic 2009 case of a pet python killing a child just outside of Orlando.
Does Florida Pay a Bounty for Burmese Pythons?
Florida is taking the threat of these invasive snakes quite seriously. As part of the ongoing efforts to eradicate this dangerous pest from our lands, the South Florida Water Management District has created a Python Elimination Program. So Floridians who are over 18 and not convicted felons can apply to become registered python removal agents.
While using state-approved software for hunting pythons in South Florida, agents can be paid between $8.65 and $15 an hour. This amount is in addition to a bounty system. Pythons of up to four feet in length are worth $50, with an additional $25 for each foot over four feet. An eight-foot Burmese python would be worth $150; a 16-footer would be worth $300.
If you are not a registered python removal agent in Florida, you can still capture and kill Burmese pythons. However, you will not be eligible for the bounties issued to registered python removal agents. But before you despair, know that you can still get a neat prize from The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission if you catch and euthanize Pythons.
You can also participate in the Python Challenge. Even if you are not a Florida resident, with the completion of a simple online class, you can register to compete in the challenge and capture pythons on public lands alongside experienced Floridian snake hunters. There are prizes awarded for the largest snake and most snakes captured.
Other Posts of Interest
- Where Do Panthers Live In Florida?
- Where Is The Best Place To Find Shark’s Teeth In Florida?
- Does Florida Have Bayous?
- Why Are The Florida Keys Called Keys And Not Islands?
Do Florida Pythons Have to be Caught Alive?
Because they are considered an invasive nuisance species, Burmese pythons can not be removed from state lands alive. Instead, the state encourages python hunters or citizens who have encountered a python to kill them quickly and humanely. The approved methods of euthanizing a Burmese python include captive bolts, firearms, and decapitation.
Can You Kill a Python on Private Land?
Yes, provided you have permission from the landowner, you may kill as many Burmese pythons as you like on private lands. And if you are the landowner, you may consider it an open season on Burmese pythons: the snakes are unwelcome guests in Florida. Therefore, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission would prefer that you utilize the same humane methods to euthanize the snakes on private land.
What is Done with Captured Pythons in Florida?
In general, captured pythons in Florida are humanely killed. Burmese pythons are not native to the land and are considered dispensable. Occasionally, male pythons are used to find female pythons and python nests, which are then eradicated; but the general rule in Florida is that a captured python is to be put to death.
How Do They Kill Pythons in Florida?
When pythons are captured in Florida, the Fish & Wildlife Commission recommends that they be killed humanely by rapid destruction of the snake’s brain. There are three methods to killing a python: captive bolt guns, traditional firearms, and decapitation.
To kill a python with a captive bolt gun or firearm, picture an X on the back of the snake’s head that extends from the rear left of the head to the right eye and the rear right of the head to the left eye. The projectile should be fired into the center of the X, which will rapidly and humanely kill the snake.
Decapitation is not the preferred method. However, if you plan to decapitate a snake, be sure that the instrument you have is sharp enough to decapitate it in a single blow. The snake’s brain must then be destroyed by the use of a firearm or through pithing. If you plan to kill a snake in Florida, utilize a firearm, being sure to follow Florida’s firearm safety guidelines.
What Eats Pythons in Florida?
Burmese pythons are large, invasive, and predatory. As such, they have no natural predators in the state of Florida. The only things that prey on pythons are human beings and sometimes alligators. While alligators are known to make a snack of pythons occasionally, no other animals eat these invasive snakes. That said, there is a burgeoning movement to make snakes a part of the menu in Florida.
Snake it to the Limit
Burmese pythons are fascinating animals. In their native environment of southeast Asia, they thrive in the jungles and rainforests and serve a significant role as apex predators in their natural ecosystem. In their found environment of south Florida, however, Burmese pythons are an invasive menace.
Despite all the scary facts and figures about pythons in Florida, your chances of seeing one in person are pretty remote. Homeowners, campers, airboat enthusiasts, and outdoorsmen in south Florida do occasionally stumble across these snakes, but there are no recorded instances of wild pythons in Florida attacking people.
So whether you’re interested in hunting these snakes for profit or just wanting to learn more about their impact on Florida’s ecosystems, I hope you’ve found this information helpful and, dare I say, gripping.