Florida's Python Problem

"So here they are, hanging out in the same places, doing the same things," Mazzotti says. "And on more than one occasion, several of which were witnessed by the public, they have gotten in fights."

Last fall one python tried to swallow an alligator. The alligator ended up swallowing the python, but the snake was too big to go down all at once. So for a couple of days the alligator wandered around with the tip of the python hanging out of its mouth until the rest could be digested.

Pythons are not venomous snakes, but they are hardly defenseless. They can kill their prey by constriction, literally smothering prey to death. And their teeth are something to behold, especially if you're trying to capture one.

"They have quite large teeth," says Mazzotti. "They angle backwards because when the snake grabs something it wants to be able to hold onto it and force it down and not let it out."

That's what makes capturing pythons interesting. Here's how it's done:

"You capture pythons by hand," says Mazzotti. "You cruise the roads, and when you see a python you grab hold of whatever part of the python you can, and hope you're faster than the python. You want to grab its head before it grabs you. By and large, we are very, very successful at that."

Mazzotti says he has never been bitten, or hurt, by a python.

Captured pythons are killed, but Mazzotti plans to keep some in his lab in hopes of finding a better way to manage the problem. It would be nice to know, for example, what makes one python attracted to another. Perhaps the right perfume would lure pythons out of the park and into a trap.

It's probably too late to eradicate the pythons, but maybe at least some order can be restored.

"Maybe we can't get them all out, but if we get them under control and they don't go anywhere else, to me that would be victory," he says.

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