ORLANDO, Fla. - With cold weather moving in, pythons are more likely to come out of their hiding places and find sunny spots to bask, according to experts.
Florida Today reports that Florida's cooler autumn weather is encouraging pythons to surface and they will be easier to capture.
"This is the best time of year because it starts getting cool," Kenneth Krysko, manager of the Florida Museum of Natural History's herpetology collection, told FloridaToday. "You can go down to Loop Road and Krome Avenue (in Big Cypress National Preserve) and see all kinds of them. Just look down. But you've got to grab them quick. And don't get bit or you're probably going to get hurt very badly."
There are fewer than 300 people licensed to hunt and transport the pythons in Florida. But various government agencies, working with The Nature Conservancy, are training residents how to deal with the snakes with an expanded Python Patrol program. The program teaches the safe way to track and capture the snakes. Hunters must be certified.
"If you're going to shoot it, you have to hit its tiny brain," Jeff Fobb, a Miami firefighter who works with Millet to educate hunters and preserve managers, told FloridaToday. "If I were going to use a weapon it would be a shotgun. Just don't shoot straight down. And running over them isn't effective either."
According to Florida Today, Burmese pythons were first found in South Florida in the late 1970s and are expanding their nesting grounds, as some experts say the reptile could establish haunts as far north as Washington, D.C., within decades.
The snakes prefer wooded areas near water and their diet in Florida consists of everything from rare rats to great blue herons and American alligators.They eat protected and endangered species in Florida and compete with other native animals for habitat and food.
Breeding populations now exist in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and Collier-Seminole State Park in Collier County. Estimates on the total population of Burmese pythons in Florida ranges from thousands to hundreds of thousands. Two years ago, Florida officials made it illegal to own, sell or transport a live Burmese python without a permit.
Cheryl Millet, a wildlife biologist with The Nature Conservancy's Babson office, told Florida Today that no one has reportedly been killed by a python.
"People have been bitten trying to catch them, but no one has ever been killed in the wild," Millet said, "Not that we know of anyway."
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