Python Problem: Invasive Snakes Wreak Havoc in the Everglades

Last week Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials killed one of the largest Burmese pythons ever taken from the Everglades. The monster serpent measured almost 16 feet in length and weighed an incredible 215 pounds. Officials discovered a large portion of that weight inside the snake when they cut it open to discover a fully intact 76-pound deer in its stomach. The photos illustrate an ever-growing invasive snake problem in Florida. Pythons and anacondas are top-line predators and many experts worry that they will (or already have) thrown the fragile Everglades ecosystem out of whack. We take a closer look at how these big snakes operate and the problems they pose for Florida. Photo: National Park Service
This snake's girth with the deer inside was 44.1 inches or roughly 3 ½ feet. As pictured here, its head was larger than a man's hand. Photo: National Park Service
Burmese pythons are ambush predators and quite capable of subduing large prey thanks to their needle-sharp, backward-pointing teeth and enough coiled strength to constrict a deer-sized animal into asphyxiation. They swallow their food whole. Larger prey is easily accommodated thanks to the ability of the snake to unhinge its jaw. Prey can take weeks, if not months, to fully digest. Photo: National Park Service
Burmese pythons are an invasive species that have overrun some areas of Florida. They have no natural predators and and the Florida swamps are an ideal habitat for them with plenty of prey. Pythons can be hunted in Florida by anyone on private land. A license is not required. Florida residents with a license can hunt pythons on private and public land. Officials killed this one with a shotgun. Photo: National Park Service
Thanks to accidental (they escaped from a collector or breeder) and intentional releases (they got too big for their owner), Florida now has more non-native species of snake than any other state. Boa constrictor, green anaconda, and seven species of python have been found in the wilds of the Sunshine State. Photo: National Park Service
Unfortunately this latest incident is only one of many documented cases of big invasive snakes taking down natural wildlife, as the following photos show. But just how many exotic snakes are in Florida is a matter of speculation. Estimates run from 5,000 to over 150,000. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Exotic Species Coordinator Scott Hardin says the state really doesn't know how many snakes there are. "We'd rather spend our resources on getting rid of them rather than counting them," Hardin says. "It would almost be impossible to count them. We thought we lost a lot of them in 2010's freeze but it looks like we didn't lose as many as we thought. Or hoped to. I'd be willing to say that the number is in the thousands though."
Regardless of numbers, the snakes that are in Florida are causing environmental damage. They prey on deer, small mammals, amphibians, other reptiles, birds and even pets. In fact, they'll eat pretty much anything they can get their unhinged jaws around.
But sometimes, pythons bite off a little more than they can digest. This 13-foot Burmese python made headlines in 2005 when it burst after swallowing a 6-foot alligator.
The python problem in not a new. In 2009 Bob McNally reported for Outdoor Life that more than 1 million pythons were imported into the U.S. between 2002 and 2006. The python pictured here weighed 117 pounds and measured out at over 16 feet. Fortunately it was killed before it could lay the 59 fertilized eggs she had inside.
This 15- foot, 8 inch python had deer hooves that measured 1.5 inches in its stomach meaning that it had very recently digested a 70- to 80-pound deer.
Bobcats have also fallen prey to Florida pythons as this claw found inside a 13 ½ foot indicate. The python was taken from the Everglades.
So how dangerous are these snakes? In 2009 two year old Floridian Shaianna Hare was strangled to death by a pet Burmese python that had escaped from its aquarium. So OL recently asked Hardin about the likelihood of wild snakes attacking people (Florida Officials Say Pythons Probably Won't Kill People). Hardin answered, "I'll never say the danger [of a python attacking a human] is zero. If a snake that size wrapped you up, you'd be in trouble. But snakes that size are extremely rare [in Florida]."
Mythology, pop culture, and the Internet are ripe with stories of snakes swallowing humans, but to date no actual proof has been presented. Pictures such as this (discredited several times) only fuel stories of human death by serpentine. Hoaxers claimed that the bulge inside this snake was a human.
Pythons can grow upwards of 19 feet in length while anacondas can reach more than 22 feet but history is full of stories of some even longer. Legendary Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett reported that he shot a 62-foot anaconda in 1907.

Furthermore, Teddy Roosevelt's guide down the River of Doubt in Brazil in 1913 - 1914 Candido Rondon claimed to have seen and measured the body of a 38-foot anaconda.
A 100-foot long "serpent" was said to have been machine-gunned in 1933 by the Brazil-Colombia Boundary Commission. Photos of the snake, of course, were lost. According to "witnesses," four men together couldn't lift its head. More recently, this photo exploded on the Internet of a 100-foot snake swimming in a river in Borneo. Most experts have discounted this photo as a fraud. There is still much to learn about Florida's invasive snake problem and it's clear that the big constrictors are not going away anytime soon. We can only hope that game officials and hunters can work together to curb the invasion.

A 16-foot python was recently found with a full-grown deer in it's stomach. We take a look at the photos and the looming snake problem in Florida. GRAPHIC IMAGE WARNING!