Not-so-killer freeze: Burmese pythons return to Everglades

Miami HeraldFebruary 7, 2011 

Just over a year ago, a killer freeze dropped iguanas from trees, turned pythons into snake-sicles and left Mayan cichlids and other tropical fish bobbing like bloated corks in lakes and canals.

Now, the exotic invaders are back — and in surprisingly healthy numbers, particularly in the case of the most infamous of the bunch, the Burmese python.

Water managers are again routinely pulling snakes off canal levees, only last week bagging a 13.5-foot male along the bank of the L-28 in West Miami-Dade. In Everglades National Park — epicenter of the exotic invasion — the record cold last January appears to have had only a mild chilling effect.

"Right now, the numbers aren't all that different," said park biologist Skip Snow. "We're finding them in the same places we've been finding them."

While scientists can only estimate the toll the Big Chill took on the army of exotic reptiles, fish and plants in the wilds of South Florida, field observations over the last year suggest nature knocked them down but not out. Some already are speeding down the road to recovery.

David Hallac, the park's biological resources chief, said he expected a sharp decline in captured snakes. But last year's total of 322 fell only about 10 percent from 2009.

"That actually shocked me," Hallac said. "We couldn't believe how many snakes were coming in. At a minimum, I was thinking maybe a 50 percent drop."

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