Meet the Florida Snake Hunters Who Have Killed More Than 1,000 Invasive Pythons

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: April 2, 2023
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Florida’s Burmese pythons are a textbook example of invasive species. They were first spotted in Florida in 1979, and now years later they’ve transformed into a nightmare. You know it’s a huge problem when snake lovers come together to hunt snakes down, and that’s exactly what has happened in Florida. 

Each year, the Florida Python Challenge is organized with cash prizes for the hunters who capture the most and the longest Burmese pythons. If you’d like to find out why Burmese pythons are such a concern to Floridians and would also like to meet two inspiring hunters in the game, then this article is for you.

How Did Burmese Pythons Get Into the Everglades?

burmese python swimming

It’s thought the first Burmese python in the Everglades was a pet that was released or escaped its cage during stormy weather.

©Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.com

The first Burmese python ever found in the Everglades was spotted in 1979. Experts suspect that it was a former pet that was released or escaped into the wild.

It’s possible the pet owner released the python to avoid having to care for an adult of the species, which can reach 12 feet long on average, or the snake escaped its cage, easier to do if it was made insecure due to stormy weather or a hurricane. A Florida python breeding facility that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 likely added to the number of snakes in the wild.

Where Do Burmese Pythons Usually Live?

Burmese pythons originally come from Asia and can be found from eastern India through Vietnam and southern China. They also are present in Indonesia on the islands of Java, Bali, small parts of Sulawesi, and Sumbawa.

Generally, these pythons live in jungle areas and southeast Asian grassy marshes. It is possible for them to be in areas of low elevations such as Cambodia’s lowlands and in regions at high elevations, like the foothills of the Himalayas.

Ironically, these pythons are endangered in their native habitats as their numbers have fallen due to hunters catching and killing them for their skins and flesh as well as snakes being caught and sold overseas as pets.

Why Are Burmese Pythons in the Everglades Such a Problem?

Burmese Python in Everglades

Burmese pythons in the Everglades are a threat to the native species and the ecosystem.

©Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.com

More than 40 years after they were first spotted, Burmese pythons have multiplied greatly, and hundreds of thousands of them now live in Everglades. The first problem with this is in their size. Burmese pythons are one of the largest snake species; even in their natural habitats, they have only a few predators, such as crocodiles and larger pythons.

However, as they age and become larger, the list of animals that can prey on or compete with them for food reduces. In their natural habitats, however, the ecosystem, as well as their predators, stop them from growing too large and hunting other species into extinction. But since this isn’t the case in the Everglades, Burmese pythons practically hunt prey into extinction. They aren’t wasting any time either, as most of these species are declining at an alarming rate.

Some particular species of concern that were commonly spotted before the year 2000 are Virginia opossums, bobcats, raccoons, red foxes, white foxes, and rabbits. From 2003 to 2011, researchers observed about 35,400 miles, and the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal were devastating. According to the paper, compared to data collected from 1996 and 1997, sightings of opossums decreased by 98.9%, bobcats by 87.5%, and raccoons by 99.3%. Worse still, they did not spot a single rabbit or fox.

If these pythons are allowed to continue this reign of terror, some already-rare species could be lost forever. For those who have lived in the Everglades before the Burmese python invasion, the wildlife there is only a shadow of itself. Since none of Florida’s species can keep these pythons in check, they grow larger and live longer than average.

How Long Do Burmese Pythons Live?

Burmese pythons can live around 20 years in the wild. They are easy to breed in captivity and live longer when in a protected environment. The oldest recorded was aged 28 years old.

One characteristic that might help increase its survival rate is that, unlike most reptiles, the Burmese python can reproduce by parthenogenesis, a natural form of asexual reproduction. Researchers observed isolated females in captivity who produced eggs without any contact with a male and discovered that the hatchlings produced were genetically identical to their mothers.

Female Burmese pythons can lay clutches of up to 100 eggs, with the large number increasing the chance of more young surviving.

Some of the Largest Burmese Pythons Caught in Florida

Burmese Python

The largest snake ever found in Florida was a Burmese python that was 18 feet long and 215 pounds.

©iStock.com/Lunatic_67

These are just some of the species on record. Without a doubt, if nothing is done, Burmese pythons will damage the Everglades’ ecosystem beyond repair.

The Florida Python Challenge

The Florida Python Challenge is a 10-day competition that is hosted annually. Snake experts compete to hunt down as many Burmese pythons as possible in 10 days. There are other categories and other prizes to be won.

In 2022, the competition started on August 5 and ended on August 14, with 997 participants from 32 U.S. states, Canada, and Latvia. During the competition, a total of 231 invasive Burmese pythons were removed.

The longest python caught in the 2022 Florida Python Challenge measured 11 feet and 0.24 inches. It was captured by Dustin Crum, making him a winner in 2022 and 2021. He took home $1,500 for winning the 2022 Longest Python grand prize in the professional category. Matthew Concepcion caught 28 Burmese pythons to win the 2022 Ultimate Grand Prize and $10,000 in prize money. More results of the 2022 event can be found here.

The Florida Python Challenge doesn’t just accept anyone, however. After a non-refundable $25 fee, participants must take an online training course and score at least 85% to be admitted.

Each year, hunters who care about the Everglades’ ecosystem get together to make a difference while engaging in some good-natured competition. However, other dedicated full-time hunters hold the fort down even when the competition isn’t going on.

Donna Kalil and Amy Siewe

Among the many past winners are Donna Kalil and Amy Siewe. Kalil, who has been participating since 2015, was the 2021 winner in the “Most Pythons” category after capturing 19 Burmese pythons. In 2017, she became a full-time worker and began to hunt down pythons professionally. She is the leader of the Everglades Avenger Team, a team of dedicated python removal specialists fighting for the Everglades’ ecosystem.

Siewe is another professional python remover who joined the team in 2019 and won second place in the “Heaviest Snake” category in her first year. Her heaviest catch weighed 110 pounds and was 17 feet and 3 inches long! As of 2022, Kalil had a record of more than 670 captures, and Siewe was only a few shy of 400. Together, these Florida snake hunters have killed more than 1,000 invasive Burmese pythons.

As one might imagine, extracting these pythons is a dangerous job. Even though Burmese pythons are constrictors, they bite, and hunters suffer many bites as they do their jobs. In addition, despite being professional hunters, they are snake lovers and hate to harm these creatures. However, they continue because they know that the balance of the Everglades’ ecosystem depends on it.

Here’s How You Can Help

If you’d like to help get rid of the invasive Burmese python species in the Everglades but have no python-capturing skills, here is a list of practical ways you can make a difference:

Please spread the word: It’s important to spread awareness about the dire situation of the Everglades’ ecosystem. Not only will it reach more volunteers, but it will also create an awareness of the dangers of pet trade.

Donate: Donna Kalil has a website you can check out for more information about her risky but important job. You can also donate to support the Everglades Avenger Team.

Buy Burmese Python Products: Many hunters make products from the skins of the pythons they catch. Not only is that a good way to support them, but it also ensures that nothing is wasted. Amy Siewe’s store sells Burmese python skin products, which you can shop to support her.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Irina oxilixo Danilova/Shutterstock.com

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