MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Imagine a snake that can grow 20 feet long, weigh 400 pounds and swallow an alligator. That is some serious jaw unhinging. In Florida's Everglades, Burmese pythons are the new bullies in town. Skip Snow's a wildlife biologist. He tries to catch these snakes. Earlier, I asked him where they came from.
Dr. SKIP SNOW (Wildlife Biologist): To give you some idea of the magnitude of the problem, the calendar year 2005, we removed or documented the removal of 95 pythons. This last year, 2006, we are well over 150. So it's not going away. We found all size classes in multiple places, hatchlings to mature adults, and they're eating our native animals. They're competing with native predators like bobcats for the native rodents.
We're concerned about diseases. We don't know anything about whether or not Burmese pythons may be bringing in diseases that our native reptiles don't have any resistance to.
BLOCK: How did these pythons become such a big problem for you?
Dr. SNOW: We have Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park as a result of a couple of different things. Either people let them go because they got way too big for them to take care of - these are animals that can grow more than 20 feet in length, and they can live 20 to 25 years. Or the escaped.
But the main point is is they came as part of the pet trade, and they were either released as a crime - it's a state crime to release an exotic animal -or a crime of negligence - I mean, if the pet owner didn't take proper care and enabled the animal to get out.
BRAND: Yeah. I could imagine it would be a little difficult to contain a 20-foot-long, 400-pound snake. That's a lot of snake.
Dr. SNOW: It's part of the problem, is pet owners need to know what they're getting into. When they first buy them, they're only about 18 inches to 24 inches long. Then they grow rapidly, and with inside of a couple of years, you have a seven, eight or nine-foot snake. And it keeps on growing.
BRAND: Now tell us about this news that they're actually taking on alligators in the swamps there and winning - eating alligators.
Dr. SNOW: Well, we have a number of encounters that we've documented between Burmese pythons and the American alligator, one of which was a draw, where both animals stayed together for upwards of 24 to 30 hours, and then actually - the alligator let the snake loose, and the snake was still alive, and both went their separate ways. And another case was a large python, about a 13-foot python that had swallowed a six-and-a-half foot alligator, and both died.
And then in the other cases that we have - which are about six, I think, now -the python came out on the losing end. The python was either killed and left behind or killed and consumed by the alligator. So the box score for python versus alligator seems to be that the alligator can have the upper hand, at least when it's a large alligator with a large snake. But time will tell.
BRAND: So you're there, you're sort of on the ground, if you will, or in the swamps. What's that like, hunting a big snake?
Dr. SNOW: It requires - not a lot of stealth, but it does require attention, largely because they're extremely cryptic. They're really difficult to see. They're patterned in such a way that, really, a 16-foot snake - which is the largest python we've ever found - curled up under a bush, can occupy about a space two-feet by two-feet. And if it doesn't move, because of its coloration, you can walk within inches of it and not know it's there.
BRAND: But do you grab it yourself with your bare hands?
Dr. SNOW: Well, typically what you do with the smaller ones, the whole idea is to try and control the head. It pretty much takes a couple of people to safely handle them.
BRAND: Have you done that?
Dr. SNOW: Done what?
BRAND: Wrestled a snake?
Dr. SNOW: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Mm-hmm.
BRAND: Well, is it hard to wrestle a snake? A 400-pounder?
Dr. SNOW: Well, if - by yourself. It took four or five of us to capture and relocate a 15-foot snake. But depending upon the size and all the people, it takes at least a couple.
BRAND: Skip Snow is a wildlife biologist. He's pursuing these giant Burmese pythons in the Everglades National Park. Skip Snow, thank you very much.
Dr. SNOW: You're welcome. Thank you.
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BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
CHADWICK: And I'm Alex Chadwick.