After all the hoopla and news of people buying tools to catch Burmese pythons invading Florida, the state's monthlong hunt for them is over. Hunters caught 68 pythons. That's right, 68, according to The Associated Press, even though 1,600 people signed up with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to search for them.
Well, the whole point isn't really to kill thousands of snakes, although it's estimated there could be as many as 150,000 of them slithering about in the Florida underbrush. The point is to raise public awareness, according to Professor Frank Mazziotti of the University of Florida, who told NPR's Talk of the Nation that many pythons were former pets whose owners released them.
That sets up a problem, he warns: "They're an invasive species, and the danger that they cause is really to the ecosystem. And they're a top predator and, you know, so much has been spoken about the importance of top predators in nature shows and their role. Well, this isn't top predator; it's like an invader who is coming to a system that completely lacks defenses against it."
In other words, once freed in the wild, they grow to enormous lengths and there's nothing, especially in the Everglades, that can kill them. Try this on for size: NPR's Greg Allen reports scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey nabbed the largest Burmese python ever in the Everglades last year. It was 17 feet, 7 inches. Oh, and it was a female, carrying 87 eggs.
Although not many of the snakes were caught, a successful few hunters will win cash prizes, such as $1,500 for the most pythons taken and $1,000 for the longest python captured.
Humorist Dave Barry took an interest in the Python Challenge's success; the Miami resident recently described his most frightening herpetological moment to NPR's All Things Considered:
"But several years ago, I was in my office, which is next to our swimming pool, and I reached for my diet soda and there was — I heard a hissing sound. And there was a snake that at the time I would've estimated at probably 30 to 40 feet.
"It was probably actually, really, in real life about 2 feet long, but it was a snake right next to my soda can. And so I made a really un-masculine — I made a sound like a recently castrated Teletubby. And I jumped out and ran out onto the patio and got the first weapon I came across, which was barbecue tongs ... so I go running out with this thing riding at the end of my barbecue tongs and dropped it. And as it happened, it fell into the swimming pool. It made a rookie snake error, which is it swam into the filter basket."