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Florida Python Challenge: How Long Could 2022’s Largest Python Be?

This year’s Florida Python Challenge has officially begun, and everyone who cares about the ecosystem couldn’t be more excited. The Florida Python Challenge is an annual 10-day contest that brings snake hunters and huntresses from all over the world to save the Everglades’ ecosystem by tracking and eliminating Florida’s invasive pythons. If you’d like to find out the important details of this annual challenge and learn more about Florida’s invasive pythons, continue reading.

Why is the Florida Python Challenge Held?

The Florida Python Challenge is a unique way to solve the Burmese python problem that plagues the Everglades. The first Burmese python ever found in Florida was spotted in 1979. Since then, the species has gone on to multiply, and hundreds of thousands of them now inhabit the Everglades. 

This is a problem because Burmese pythons have few natural predators, and as they age and grow larger, the number of predators they have further reduces. This allows them to grow large since they have low-competition food and no natural predators, thus reaching their full lifespan and impressive sizes.

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Because the Everglades’ ecosystem lacks natural predators to keep these pythons in check, they wreak havoc on the ecosystem by over-hunting native species. Before 2000, red foxes, white foxes, Virginia opossums, bobcats, raccoons, and rabbits were common sights in the area. However, when experts conducted a 9-year survey from 2003 to 2011 and compared findings to a 2-year survey carried out in 1996 and 1997, the results spelled disaster.

The survey proved a decline in opossum sightings, a decline in bobcat sightings, and a decline in raccoon sightings. Even worse, they didn’t spot a single fox or rabbit. Burmese pythons are slowly causing other native species in the Everglades to die out at alarming rates. Some of these species are already considered threatened, and if something isn’t done, Florida’s ecosystem will suffer a great loss of even more animal species.

Florida Python Challenge Categories

There are multiple competition categories in which hunters and huntresses compete. The competition rewards competitors who can capture the most and longest pythons. Each category has various subcategories, so 8 or more people go home with cash prizes. The “Most Pythons” and the “Longest Python” categories encourage healthy competition while saving the ecosystem.

How Long Could 2022’s Largest Python Be?

Biggest Snakes: The Burmese Python
The longest python ever caught measured 18 feet and 9 inches long.

Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.com

Each year, python hunters participating in the challenge capture unreal amounts of Burmese pythons in such a short period, and some of the pythons they capture are impressively long. In 2020, Mike Kimmel and Kristian Hernandez won the grand prizes in the “Most Pythons” category in the pro and rookie categories respectively. Both participants won TRACKER 570 Off Road ATVs. 

Kimmel removed 8 pythons, and Hernandez removed 6. In the “Longest Python” category, Tom Rahill and  Kristian Hernandez again, won the grand prizes in the pro and rookie categories respectively. Rahill captured a 12-foot, 7.3-inch python, while Hernandez captured an 11-foot, 6.5-inch python. Both winners went home with $2,000. Dave Mucci and Tom Rahill won the “Heaviest Python” category in the pro and rookie categories. 

They captured a 62-pound and 49.4-pound python respectively and were each rewarded with $2,000. According to Discovery.com, the total number of pythons captured in the challenge was over 80. In 2021, however, things leveled up a notch, and the total number of pythons was 223. Dusty Crum and Brandon Call won the “Longest Python” prizes in the pro and novice categories respectively. 

Crum’s python measured 15 feet, 5 inches, while Call’s measured 15 feet and 9 inches. In the “Most Pythons” category, Donna Kalil and Tom Hobbs emerged winners in the pro and novice categories. Kalil captured 19 pythons, while Hobbs captured 6. However, Charlie Dachton went home with the overall grand prize for removing a Burmese python nest with 41 new hatchlings!

So, How Big Could 2021’s Longest Python Be?

Burmese Python
There are unconfirmed rumors that the 2022’s largest python could get as large as 23 feet!

iStock.com/Lunatic_67

In 2020, the longest python caught was an 11-foot, 6.5-inch python; the next year, the record was broken by the 15 feet and 9 inches specimen. However, Burmese pythons can grow up to 18 feet and 9 inches, according to the longest Burmese python specimen ever caught. They can also get as heavy as 215 pounds, according to the largest snake ever caught in the USA, an Everglades Burmese python.

So, optimistically, this year’s catch should range from the previous record to 18 feet and 9 inches. On the practical side, the largest catch could fall below or even above this range. There are unconfirmed rumors that these pythons can get as large as 23 feet!

The Most Pythons category is another point of interest. We expect last year’s record to be broken as well, and since there are many new participants, we also expect the challenge to yield even more euthanized Burmese pythons. 

How Do Python Hunters and Huntresses Catch and Kill Burmese Pythons?

burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus)
Burmese pythons are euthanized when caught.

Irina oxilixo Danilova/Shutterstock.com

It is important to note that the hunters participating in this challenge are experts trained to locate and capture these pythons. Burmese pythons are mostly active at night, so hunters usually go after them in low-light conditions. They often get bitten on the job, which is why proper preparation is necessary.

When they spot the python, they approach it from behind and safely grasp it, just below the jawbone, so it cannot turn or bite. Of course, they have the tools to carry out these processes. Once the snake is safely captured, they euthanize it. Although state laws do not protect Burmese pythons, there are still laws regarding how they can be killed to ensure that all snakes experience humane treatment.

The first step is to render the snake unconscious immediately, so they feel no pain. This can be done with a penetrating captive bolt stunner or a pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air gun. It’s important to consult official guidelines on what models and specifications of tools can be used. It is also important to remember that the use of guns is not allowed.

Once the snake is unconscious, the next step is to damage its brain to prevent it from gaining consciousness. This step is called “pithing”, which is done by inserting a small rod into the snake’s cranial cavity. If this is done by trained hands, the python will feel no pain as it dies.

What Happens To The Euthanized Python?

To avoid wastage, hunters and huntresses make products from the snake skins and keep or sell them. While the competition goes on, we can help them by raising awareness about Burmese pythons in Florida and buying products made from Burmese python snake skins. 

The post Florida Python Challenge: How Long Could 2022’s Largest Python Be? appeared first on AZ Animals.

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