It hasn’t quite reached Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot status, but reported sightings of a large Burmese python in a Boynton Beach neighborhood has led to a certain fear and loathing in suburbia.
What’s worse — wildlife authorities cannot catch it and there could be more than one. Is it a signal that the monster snakes, an invasive species that’s been wreaking havoc in the Everglades, could be moving to more urban areas in the east?
After all, the neighborhood where the snake has been spotted, Golfview Harbour, lies between Congress Avenue and Woolbright Road — about a mile west of Interstate 95 and about 10 miles from the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, where there were confirmed python sightings two years ago.
If officials can track or catch the snake, this would be the farthest east a python has been reported in Palm Beach County, according to EDDMapS, a data system used by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to track invasive species.
Reported python sightings require photos or evidence of the snake’s trail to confirm the species’ identity. Unfortunately for Golfview Harbour residents, “nobody has had a good look at this animal,” said Jenny Novak, a nonnative species outreach biologist with the FWC.
But the looks they did have are enough, said resident Terry Aperavich.
“People are alarmed and they’ve got their fur up. We know there’s something there.”
They even reached out to known snake hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum, a Florida character who is known for his barefoot hunting strategy and ability to wrestle snakes into submission. Crum told The Palm Beach Post that Golfview Harbour residents called him about the python sightings. Crum said he will send help or personally look for it with his beagle, but the problem is locating the snake, he said.
“They are so elusive and cryptic,” Crum said. “To be able to find that snake is one in a million.”
Crum, who has captured pythons across South Florida, said the snakes use the canals to travel and are looking for food because it has become scarce in the Everglades. When asked if pythons could survive and populate in residential areas, Crum said “absolutely.”
Talking about the snakes’ food source in the Everglades, he said: “There’s no rabbits, raccoons and squirrels left, so the snakes are moving in every direction — north, south, east and west.
“That’s why we are battling and trying to contain them in the Everglades before they become established farther north.”
The invasive species are naturally found in Asia but have populated the Everglades most likely after they were released as pets, or escaped.
A land resources bureau chief with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Rory Feeny, said that small native wildlife has decreased by more than 90 percent in Everglades National Park.
The SFWMD started a landmark program last year that pays hunters to track and kill the pythons in the Everglades. The hunts have led to at least 1,500 snakes being killed by the agency since March 2017, Feeny said.
All confirmed python sightings and captures in Palm Beach County have been located west, two of which were at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge more than a year ago, Feeny said. There has been no evidence of pythons at the refuge since the last sighting in 2016, he said.
When asked about pythons inhabiting residential areas, Feeny said it is unlikely and would require further investigation — but that pythons could use canal systems to get around.
“Right now their preferred habitat is the Everglades,” Feeny said. “When traveling they use shallow water and canal systems to get around versus habitats with roads and bike trails with commercial activity.”
There is a canal that serves as a back yard to at least 40 homes in Golfview Harbour.
‘He saw the snake’s head pop out in the water’
The Boynton python panic started three weeks ago when Aperavich’s landscaper, Steven Green, saw a large figure in the water while mowing his backyard lawn. Taking a closer look, Green realized it was a snake about 12 feet long.
“He saw the snake’s head pop out in the water and it freaked him out,” Aperavich said.
Aperavich said the canal in Golfview Harbour runs from Congress Avenue to Interstate 95 and circles around to adjacent neighborhoods in Delray Beach near Lake Ida Road.
Since the first sighting in early August, there have been at least four more reports of the snake, Aperavich said. A neighbor’s cleaning lady spotted it and said she would not work at the house until the reptile was caught.
Aperavich, along with a few other neighbors, called the FWC and the SFWMD but all have told residents they cannot come to the area unless they can get a photo of the snake or evidence of a snake trail.
The most recent sighting was by Green on Wednesday, Aug. 29, but Aperavich said the snake moved too fast for him to get a photo.
Aperavich said he and resident Susan Geery made flyers and posted them to all the homes along the canal and around it.
“I have to tell my neighbors, it’s the responsible thing to do,” Aperavich said.
Geery said she was informed about the sightings from a post Aperavich made on the neighborhood website NextDoor. Knowing that not everyone is on the website, she created the flyers and knocked on doors to get the word out. She said many neighbors were thankful.
“Some people are terrified of snakes and many were just thankful for the sake of their pets,” Geery said.
Geery said a fisherman and paddle border in the Lake Ida area saw a snake about 13 feet long a few weeks ago.
“I’m not even sure if someone can take a photograph of it because these snakes go fast,” Geery said. “They are not only seen in water but out of water too.”
Python prey? ‘All those rabbits … didn’t up and move’
Aperavich said their neighborhood is filled with rabbits, raccoons, opossums, ducks and squirrels — all easy prey for the python, who uses its sharp teeth to seize its prey before wrapping its huge body around it, killing its victim by constriction.
“All those rabbits in Caloosa Park just didn’t up and move,” Aperavich said. “There also used to be three ducks at this canal but only one is left,” Aperavich said, adding that other neighbors saw scattered feathers by the bank.
Most of the small wildlife is from Caloosa Park, which is less than a mile away from the canal and on the opposite side of the neighborhood, Aperavich said. There is a bridge over the canal so residents can walk to the park from their homes.
If residents spot the python again, Crum said to not be scared because they normally don’t react to humans.
“I don’t think they should be concerned,” Crum said. “It’s that more people are sacred of snakes and it’s scary to see when you’re not used to it. In reality, the snake is moving and looking for food — it’s not trying to attack your pets.”
But Aperavich wants the python caught, believing it could eat residents’ pets around the canal. Many homes in Golfview Harbour are a mix of single houses, one-story villas and two story apartments. Some residents won’t walk their pets by the canal anymore.
“One of my neighbors would go down to the Caloosa Park bridge with his dog, but I haven’t seen him do it in a month,” Aperavich said.
FWC officials disagree with Crum’s statement on a pythons’ temperament, saying that pythons can get aggressive if provoked and that residents should stay a safe distance from them if spotted.
“It’s a large predator and any animal will defend itself if it feels threatened,” said Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman with the FWC. “We do offer python patrol training that provides opportunities to learn how to to safely catch a Burmese python. An average person will not feel comfortable doing it.”
If anyone spots a python in their neighborhood or residential area, you can call FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1.
Pythons in Florida
- Pythons are an invasive species in South Florida, and have been reported in Everglades National Park since the 1980s. The first pythons were likely escaped pets, and a few pythons may have been released when a breeding facility was destroyed during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
- Since 2000, when wildlife experts realized that pythons had a sizable population in Florida, scientists have been trying to study them and understand how to control them.
- Burmese pythons can grow to 18 feet, and some have exceeded 20 feet. But most are between 6 and 10 feet long, and are larger than almost all native snakes.
- Females can lay as many as 40 to 80 eggs at a time. When babies hatch they are at least 24 inches long.
- Burmese pythons are frequently found in or near water, although they are capable of climbing. Occasionally, pythons are seen in the water during warm months, but most pythons are found crossing roads at night during summer and fall. During cooler months, they can be found on levees along the edge of canals.
- The ‘python challenge’ was issued by the FWC in 2017 as a call for help to stop the invasion — which had an established breeding population by 2013 and decimated native wildlife.
- Pythons can be humanely killed on private lands at any time with landowner permission — no permit or hunting license required — and the FWC encourages people to remove and kill pythons from private lands whenever possible.