The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

February 16, 2013

In the Everglades, hunters help check a slithery invader

(Continued)

The data are not in from necropsies of the snakes performed at a University of Florida lab in Fort Lauderdale, so no one knows how many big females that carry an average of 50 eggs were removed, or how many males that compete to mate with them, or how many babies waiting to contribute to another generation.

Besides, critics should consider that hunting was forbidden in Everglades National Park, which comprises 40 percent of the swamp, said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida ecology and biology professor whose students performed the necropsies.

Only 10 percent of the remaining terrain is accessible by foot, narrowing the estimate of available snakes to 600. So harvesting more than 50 monster serpents exquisitely camouflaged in the swamp is "an incredible success," Mazzotti said.

In any case, state wildlife officials said, the goal of the hunt wasn't just bagging snakes, but also drawing attention to the havoc that pythons and other invasive species such as two large and greedy lizards — the black and white Argentine tegu and Nile monitor — as well as the Cuban tree frog, wreak upon native wildlife in the Sunshine State.

"The victory is in making people aware about invasive species," Mazzotti said. "There are almost 140 species of introduced reptiles in Florida right now, any one of them waiting to be the next python.

"We could be talking about Cuban tree frogs," he added, "but who's going to get excited about Cuban tree frogs?"

Giant slithering pythons draw cameras, but hunters caught more bird-egg and small game-eating Argentine tegus during the state's annual reptile and small game seasons for licensed hunters last year.

"There are more non-native lizards breeding in Florida than native lizards," he said. "That's nothing to be proud of."

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