Florida Hunters Beware of Sunning Pythons

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During this cold snap in South Florida, Burmese pythons in the wild may be out sunning themselves in an effort to stay warm. And that means hunters out in four South Florida wildlife management areas (WMAs) should be on the lookout for the unwanted, nonnative species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds hunters that they may continue to take Burmese pythons and all other reptiles of concern within four South Florida WMAs during the normal course of hunting during the areas' small-game seasons.

All properly licensed and permitted hunters have the authority, if they wish, to harvest pythons and other reptiles of concern (Indian python, reticulated python, northern and southern African rock python, amethystine or scrub python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard) on Everglades, Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger WMAs and Big Cypress National Preserve during specified hunting seasons.

Small-game seasons on all four management areas continue through March 7. On Big Cypress, however, the small-game season ends Feb. 1. In all four WMAs, only a Florida hunting license and management area permit are required to hunt reptiles of concern from now through the end of the small-game seasons.

"During the warm-weather months, Burmese pythons stay hidden out of the sun, but with the temperatures dipping below normal in these areas, they have to find a way to stay warm," said Jenny Tinnell, FWC biologist with the exotic species section. "They may be out in the open more than before to find the warmth of the sun, and we hope hunters, in the normal course of hunting in these areas, will take advantage of the opportunity to help stop the spread of this nonnative species."

With the exception of the small-game season in the Deep Lake Unit of Big Cypress (where only bows and muzzleloaders are allowed), hunters may use shotguns, rimfire rifles and handguns to take pythons. Nets and snares also may be used, but no matter the method of take, all reptiles of concern must be euthanized on site.

Reptiles of concern may not be taken out of the wildlife management areas alive and must be reported to the FWC within 36 hours by calling, toll-free, 866-392-4286, or going to MyFWC.com and selecting "Burmese pythons" in the "Quick Clicks" menu. However, any reptile of concern taken from Big Cypress must be checked in at one of the area's six check stations.

Hunters may do what they wish with the reptiles' skin and meat. However, according to the National Park Service, mercury testing on two dozen captured Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park revealed extraordinarily high levels of mercury in the meat - well above levels considered safe to eat in freshwater fish and alligators.

Officials estimate there are thousands of Burmese pythons in the wild in South Florida. The FWC's goal is to contain the spread of these pythons in the wild and prevent establishment of other reptiles of concern. Data collected by hunters on these state-managed lands will assist in preventing their northward movement.