Florida Pythons Released Back into Everglades after 68 Snakes Bagged in Hunt

First Posted: Feb 19, 2013 01:28 PM EST

The Florida python hunt has finally come to a close, but a few, lucky pythons are, surprisingly, receiving another chance at life. The largest of the snakes caught in the month-long challenge are being released back into the wild.

The hunt, sponsored by the state, was meant to help rid the Florida Everglades of the invasive species. The Burmese python itself was first introduced to the Everglades after a pet owner either released his snake or allowed it to escape. Since then, the population has boomed. Pythons eat eggs by the dozen, which drastically affects native bird populations. Strong swimmers that can grow up to 20 feet in length, the snakes have now spread out to the Florida Keys.

So why would biologists release these species back into the wild? The biggest of the snakes, including the 11-foot 1-inch behemoth that was captured, have been outfitted with trackers. The hope is that these wired snakes will lead wildlife officials to more of their brethren, and help them better understand the pythons' movements. This could lead to a more effective way at culling the population.

If Florida's Python Challenge is anything to go by, scientists truly need that information. Over an entire month where over a thousand participants competed, only 68 snakes were bagged--even with a monetary incentive. The 11-foot-long snake, which is now being released, was caught by Blake Russ; the snake earned him $1000 for capturing the longest one in the competition.

This incident isn't isolated, though. Invasive species continue to plague areas of North America. In the South, the nutria has infested bayous and waterways. The giant rodent originally hails from South America, and was imported in order to provide a beaver substitute for the fur trade. Other species such as the lionfish have travelled all along coastal waters and have drastically impacted the coral reef ecosystem.

While the Python Challenge may not have rid the Everglades of the invasive snakes, it has given researchers a new opportunity to study the species. In the future, it's possible that scientists could better target the areas where these creatures reside.

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