Floridians Face A Real Jungle Out There

In the abstract, living in Florida is a paradise with warm weather, beautiful beaches, and Disneyworld. In reality, living in Florida can be a jungle. No, I’m not referring to the concrete jungle caused by overdevelopment. I’m talking about a real life jungle complete with fanged fauna. Burmese pythons are taking over the Sunshine State! HELP!

Yes, Florida’s a hot spot for tourists. But it’s also a national and global hot spot for non-native, invasive species according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Florida is the point of entry for about 3/4 of the plants imported into the U.S. and the majority of the world reptile trade. Lucky us–we Florida residents get to share our state with a bunch of tourists and over 500 non-native fish, wildlife, and plant species.

As a result of the presence of these many invasive species, all of Florida’s native habitats–marine, freshwater, and land–are now threatened. The invaders are a cause of great concern practically, financially, and environmentally. Hurricane season is limited to a defined period of time during the year, but invasive species are a threat to Floridians year around. Oh, joy!

How do these invaders have a financial impact? According to The Nature Conservancy’s website, the cost of managing Florida’s invasive plants alone is $100 million annually. Let’s consider a certain weed which is taking Florida by storm. No, not THAT weed! The non-native air potato vine is growing like a proverbial weed–but on steroids. The aggressive, noxious weed can add up to 8 incher per DAY and smothers vegetation. It costs big bucks to weed out this weed.

Moving over to the reptile category, green iguanas are the bane of property owners. The big lizards’ presence was first reported in the 1960’s, but their population has mushroomed so that they now infest South Florida. The iguanas are destructive and leave unsanitary droppings behind as a memento.

Rhesus macaque monkeys appear in the non-native invasive animal category. In the 1930’s six of the monkeys were brought to Silver Springs in an effort to attract tourists. These monkeys were placed on an island in Silver River, but SURPRISE!, the monkeys swam away from the island and took up residence in surrounding forests. About 200 of them are estimated to be located in Silver Springs State Park alone. The monkeys are prone to approach and intimidate visitors to the park resulting in some park areas which the monkeys frequent being closed to visitors.

And don’t go into the water! Forget worrying about sharks; swimming about offshore are lionfish. This nonnative species loves to snack on baby reef fish, decimating that population. When they aren’t devouring little fish, lionfish are scaring humans. Their fin spines are highly venomous and have led to human deaths.

Most alarming is the presence of Burmese pythons here in Florida. Snakes alive! These snakes, while native to Southeast Asia, are Florida’s largest invasive species. Their population in the Sunshine State is believe to exceed 100,000. The first Burmese Python found in Florida was spotted in the Everglades in 1979. It was likely a former pet (PET? What idiot has a Burmese Python for a pet?) which was released or escaped into the wild, making the wild even wilder.

Burmese Pythons are wreaking havoc on the environment because they eat endangered species and disrupt natural food chains. Usually they live near water, and scientists report that these snakes have eliminated 99% of the native mammals in the Everglades. Burmese Pythons can eat adult deer and gators up to six feet. Their only predators are (armed) humans and very large gators.

Tens of thousands of Burmese Pythons (yes, that means a figure with FOUR zeroes) inhabit the mainland around Everglades National Park. (Note to self: Do NOT plan any trip to the Everglades in the near future.) The population is likely to be increasing since it is currently Burmese Python mating season, and each adult female lays between 60-100 eggs per year. No one will think those are cute babies other than the momma python.

Clearly, Burmese Pythons must be eliminated, but how? Nature Conservancy Florida launched a Python Patrol in the Florida Keys in 2008 and expanded this service to the mainland in 2010. The Python Patrol’s trained responders can safely and humanely (who cares–it’s a big snake!) capture and remove Burmese Pythons. And by remove, I hope they mean permanently remove such as send them to the big snake pit in the sky.

The State of Florida has been paying python hunters to catch and kill Burmese Pythons since March 2017. As a result of this program, around 3,000 such snakes have been “extinguished.” Please tell me that term equates to “exterminated.”

In an effort to raise public awareness of the python problem, the State of Florida, along with the Florida Wildlife Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, is putting on the Florida Python Challenge. The Challenge, held in conjunction with this year’s Super Bowl which will be played in Miami on February 2nd, is also dubbed the 2020 Python Bowl. 550 individuals (among which I am NOT numbered) have registered to participate. What’s the goal? Catch and kill Burmese Pythons!

The Challenge kicked off on January 10, 2020 and will run through January 19th. The hunter who catches the largest snake during that time will win $2,000. While Burmese Pythons can grow to 26′ and over 200 pounds, the average size found in Florida is 8-10 feet. That’s still too big for me! The hunter who catches the most Burmese Pythons in the Challenge wins a Tracker 570 Off Road ATV provided by Bass Pro Shops. Winners will be announced January 25th during the opening of Super Bowl Live. VIP guests will receive python skin footballs. For once, I’m happy NOT to be a VIP guest.

Scary as having these invasive species in our backyards is, maybe we Floridians should capitalize on the situation. Let’s use it to draw tourists! Why should they travel to Asia when they can see Burmese Pythons and Mickey Mouse in the same trip?

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware there was such a threat posed to Florida by non-native species? Does awareness of the pervasiveness of Burmese Pythons in the Everglades dissuade you from wanting to travel there? Moving forward, what’s the best way to protect against further non-native invasive species taking a foothold here in Florida?

 

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