Snakes alive: We are too bitten by python mania

Dave's Wild Life

Summer of the snake? Python mania has south Florida wrapped in its coils. Recently, the hysteria hit its zenith when two photos of our local, and harmless, red rat snake appeared in the Naples Daily News. The photographers asked if they were juvenile Burmese pythons. It’s a foregone conclusion that many of our local snakes will be mistaken for exotic constrictors and killed for it. A simple suggestion to locals: take a trip to your local bookseller and pick up the reptile edition of the “Florida’s Fabulous” series. It has big, glossy pictures of our local snakes. With just a few minutes of review, Floridians should easily pick out the most common snakes in our area: black racer, red rat (or corn snake), yellow rat, ringneck, and water snake. None of these are venomous or even similar to a venomous snake, or to a python for that matter. And if you’re not sure, for safety’s sake, just leave it alone.

I firmly believe the problem with pythons has been highly exaggerated. I think there are pockets of python habitat but their impact is not widespread. The state’s python hunters have wrestled up and dispatched less than a dozen snakes in the past month or so. With this low of a body count, it doesn’t appear to be an issue of prolific pythons. I personally spend a fair bit of time in our local woods and swamps and haven’t seen the first one.

But should we remove the ones we do find? Absolutely. Burmese pythons can grow from hatchlings to reptilian monsters in short order. A friend of mine grew one from 20 inches to 9 feet in a year. The record length Burmese was over 26 feet and tipped the scales at 400 pounds. That animal was a pampered, and well fed, captive snake. However, 16-18 feet for the average Burmese is not out of the question. At that size raccoons, opossum, small deer and pigs are easily killed and consumed. That makes them an equal opportunity competitor with the Florida panther.

I fully support the game commission ruling that requires “Reptiles of Concern” be microchipped for identification purposes. Yes, there will be rule breakers. One was recently caught over on the east coast. But hopefully this law will discourage others from even wanting an animal that will eventually outgrow the home and limited expertise of the average pet owner.

Will we ever rid ourselves of invasive snakes? No, but like our recent coyote problem we can simply hope to manage their numbers. Aside from competing with our local predators, big snakes can kill us, too. Even for a professed snake lover, if I encounter a python while enjoying our local wilderness, it would be my duty to destroy it. And now that the state’s outdoorsmen have the official green light to kill pythons, I trust there will be more invasive reptile management this fall. Hunters can eliminate the big snakes with a headshot from a safe distance. The unarmed suburbanite does not have that advantage. Some recommend that pythons be dispatched with a shovel or machete. Unless one is knowledgeable regarding snake behavior, I don’t recommend this chore at close range for the novice. Remember, most snake bites occur trying to catch or kill one.

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