Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are a large, non-venomous snake species native to Southeast Asia. These constrictors are one of the world’s largest snake species. Adults reach lengths of up to 26 feet and weights of up to 200 pounds. Burmese pythons have distinctive golden-brown scales with dark, irregular blotches down the length of their bodies. They have a triangular head and a short, thick neck.
These snakes are excellent swimmers and are often found near water. They have become popular pets in the exotic pet trade. Unfortunately, this has resulted in them invading new environments and creating environmental damage. Read on to learn about the largest python captured in Florida! Discover the impact of escaped Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades and efforts to control them, including the 2022 Florida Python Challenge. We’ll also provide pros and cons of ownership, care tips, and responsible rehoming.
Environmental Impact of Pythons
As their name indicates, Burmese pythons didn’t originate in Florida. Yet as many as 100,000 may inhabit the 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park. Florida researcher first discovered them there in 1979. They were believed to have been released by pet owners who no longer wanted them. Perhaps the snakes had grown too large to manage. A large number of them escaped from a breeding facility for the exotic pet trade. Hurricane Andrew destroyed this facility in 1992.
Since then, they have multiplied explosively, laying clutches of 10-50 eggs multiple times a year. Additionally, they have few natural predators to cut down on the population. Pythons are becoming the apex predator of the local habitat, causing a huge decline in native prey species. These include rabbits, foxes, and endangered species such as the Key Largo woodrat. In addition to the ecological impact, pythons also pose a potential threat to human safety. While attacks on humans are rare, pythons can grow to be very large and can be dangerous if threatened. If they slither into suburbs, pets and small children could be in serious danger.
Efforts to Control Pythons
Because of the large number of eggs pythons lay every year, wildlife experts have given up on completely eradicating them from the Everglades. Rather, they want to control the population and preserve an ecological balance for indigenous species.
Killing pythons in Florida by private citizens is legal and encouraged. However, it must be done humanely and with the landowner’s permission. Hunting is also allowed on the 25 Florida Wildlife Commission lands managed throughout South Florida.
Some of the state-coordinated methods used to control the population of Burmese pythons in Florida include:
- Traps: Specialized traps, such as the “Python Pitfall Trap,” capture pythons. These traps lure the snakes in with heat and scent, and then drop a door behind them, trapping them inside.
- Hunting teams: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has deployed a team of python hunters to track and capture pythons in the Everglades. These hunters use a variety of techniques. They track the snakes with dogs and use hand-held snake tongs to capture them.
- Aerial detection: In some cases, pythons have been detected and removed using aerial surveys. Trained personnel fly over the Everglades in aircraft, looking for pythons from the air.
- Radio transmitters: Male snakes are sometimes released with radio transmitters during breeding season. They prefer the largest females and lead researchers directly to them.
- Public participation: The FWC has also enlisted the help of the public in the python removal efforts. They run a program called the Python Challenge. It offers cash prizes to individuals who catch and remove the most pythons.
Measures such as these have resulted in the capture or euthanizing of over 17,000 pythons since the year 2000.
2022 Florida Python Challenge
The Florida Python Challenge is an annual contest that started in 2013. It rewards members of the public for dispatching pythons. Prizes are given in different categories for amateurs and professionals. These include a $2,500 prize for the most snakes captured and $1,500 for the longest ones. Euthanizing all snakes captured is a requirement. The ultimate grand prize was $10,000. Prize money was provided by the Bergeron Everglades Foundation.
In 2022, the contest ran from August 5-14 and nearly 1,000 people participated from 32 different states. Even Canadians and Latvians participated. Collectively, they captured and removed about 230 Burmese pythons during the month. After three years of participating in the contest, Matthew Concepcion captured 28 pythons. He won the $10,000 prize for the most snakes caught. The longest one he found was almost 8 feet. Dustin Crum won the $1,500 prize for the longest python removed, at a length of just over 11 feet.
This was much shorter than the largest python ever caught in the state, however. This beast was an 18-foot-long, 215-pound female killed in June 2022. She was carrying 122 eggs, the most ever found in a breeding female. Her last meal had been a full-grown, adult white-tailed deer. Biologists found her by releasing a male python named Dion with a tracking device. Males are drawn to the largest females. This was the fifth female Dion ratted out in 2022. (Lady pythons take note: swipe left on the dating app for this creeper!)
How to be a Responsible Python Owner
These escaped snakes have caused a lot of damage in the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades. Before adopting a snake, pet owners need to think carefully about the commitment they are making. They should rehome the snake responsibly if they can no longer care for it.
Before deciding whether or not a pet python is for you, consider the pros and cons of this pet.
Pros of owning a pet python include:
- They can be interesting and unique pets. They attract a lot of attention and questions.
- They are generally low maintenance and do not require as much attention as other pets like dogs or cats.
- People who are allergic to pet fur may find them a good choice.
- Some species of python can be docile and make for good companion animals.
- They are quiet. Neighbors won’t complain.
- If you don’t like people, a python will scare a lot of them away!
- They live a long time: as long as 20-30 years in captivity. Awesome if you love being a snake owner!
Cons of owning a pet python include:
- Pythons can grow extremely large, which can be challenging to accommodate in a home.
- They require a specific and controlled environment, such as a terrarium with regulated temperature and humidity.
- Some species of python can be aggressive and may not be suitable as pets.
- They prefer live food, and feeding large prey items can be difficult or dangerous. A hungry snake may lunge for food and injure the owner by mistake.
- Depending on where you live, owning an exotic pet such as a python requires a permit.
- Pythons can be carriers of salmonella, which can infect human handlers or other pets in the household.
- They live a long time: as long as 20-30 years in captivity. A big problem if you find you hate being a snake owner!
Caring for a Pet Python
Caring for a pet python can be challenging. They have specific needs that must be met in order to thrive. Some of the key care requirements for a pet python include:
- Legal requirements: Check with local authorities to find out what regulations might govern keeping a python in your area. It is not legal in Hawaii and some localities in the continental United States.
- Housing: They need a large enclosure like a terrarium that can keep them contained as they grow. While a docile snake might be allowed to roam your house under your watchful eye, it always needs to be properly enclosed when you are not paying attention.
- Temperature, humidity, lighting: Python habitats must stay within certain temperature and humidity ranges. Because they are cold-blooded and use the external environment to regulate their temperature, they need access to a basking spot with a warm heat lamp and a hiding spot 10-14°F cooler to retreat to.
- Substrate: You must line the snake’s habitat with a layer of cypress mulch, coconut coir, or aspen chips. You have to replace it regularly, as well as clean the terrarium to prevent bacterial growth.
- Diet: This carnivorous species will require a diet of live or pre-killed prey. Consider whether these dietary needs may be disturbing to other family members.
- Handling: Pythons can be dangerous if handled in an unskilled way. Consult with experienced python owners to learn how to handle your animal in ways that do not stress it.
- Veterinary care: Make sure to take your python to a reptile vet annually for a checkup, and anytime they appear to be ill.
Owning a python is a big commitment. It should not be taken lightly. It’s important to research the specific species and its care requirements before committing to pet python ownership.
Rehoming an Unwanted Python
If you no longer want a pet python, there are a few options for rehoming the animal:
- Reach out to a local reptile rescue organization or sanctuary: Many organizations exist specifically to care for and rehome reptiles, including pythons. These groups can provide the proper care and find a suitable new home for your pet python.
- Try to find a new owner: You can also try to find a new owner for your python through online reptile communities, social media, or classified ads. Be sure to thoroughly vet any potential adopters and make sure they have the proper knowledge and resources to care for the animal.
- Return the python to a pet store: Some pet stores may take back pythons.
- Giving away a pet for free is not always the best solution as it can sometimes result in animal neglect. One way to find a home that will value and care for the snake is to sell it at a fair price so that the new owner has made an investment and doesn’t just take a free snake on a whim.
- Humanely euthanize the animal. If you reach the point of releasing a dangerous and environmentally destructive animal into the wild, then euthanasia is the more responsible choice. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you with painless euthanasia and disposal of the remains.
It’s important to understand that pythons are exotic animals. They can live for decades, so any decision to give away or rehome a python should be thoroughly considered and done with the animal’s best interest in mind. As the previous owner, you have the responsibility to make sure that the animal will be well taken care of.
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- Dogonews, Available here: https://www.dogonews.com/2022/6/27/record-breaking-215-pound-burmese-python-captured-in-florida#:~:text=On%20June%2022%2C%202022%2C%20the,ever%20caught%20in%20the%20state.
- Foxweather.com, Available here: https://www.foxweather.com/earth-space/florida-python-challenge-winner
- Clickorlando.com, Available here: https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2022/08/06/winter-park-man-finds-nearly-18-foot-long-python-in-florida-everglades/