2005 Mainsail Drive, Naples, FL
COLLIER COUNTY — Greg Curry was sitting on a tractor, mowing the tall grass along the side of a road near the Marco Island Executive Airport.
Then he looked down.
“All of a sudden, it was like, ‘That’s a big snake,”’ said Curry, a resource management specialist at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
By big snake, Curry means an 11-foot Burmese python, a non-native species that has invaded natural areas and even neighborhoods throughout South Florida.
Thousands of pythons are thought to be living in the Everglades, released by disenchanted owners or escaped during hurricanes.
But it was the one beneath Curry’s tractor that had his attention Thursday at the airport on Mainsail Drive, south of U.S. 41 East and east of Collier Boulevard.
Curry said he stopped mowing and called for back-up to help corral the powerful slitherer.
“I tried to stay as still as possible,” Curry said.
As he waited for help to arrive, Curry noticed more movement in the grass and spied two smaller pythons, about 4 feet long, nearby.
They got away, but Curry said he was prepared to grab the tail of the bigger python and just hold on.
He admits he’s glad he didn’t have to take that step to bag the big constrictor.
“Even with three of us, it was a bear,” Curry said.
Rookery Bay turned the snake over to the National Park Service, which plans to euthanize the python in order to study it.
Everglades National Park biologist Skip Snow said the snake’s stomach contents will be analyzed to try to figure out what pythons eat — which seems to be anything they can wrap themselves around.
Snow said python stomachs have contained remnants of bobcats, wood storks, alligators, deer and wrens.
Scientists also will take tissue samples for future genetic tests that could help figure out the snakes’ dispersal patterns and whether there are distinct populations of the invaders in South Florida, he said.
Biologists worry that pythons will disrupt the South Florida ecosystem and will be tough to root out the more time they have to get settled.
State and federal lawmakers have moved to ban the snakes and allow hunters, starting Monday, to track them down and kill them in three state-managed areas around the Everglades.
Not a snake hunter himself, Curry said he at least will be more prepared for the next time he crosses a big python.
“Now I know to bring along a pole, some bags, maybe some tape,” he said.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/