The headline at Smithsonian magazine is "The Snakes That Ate Florida," and the accompanying story makes clear there isn't much hyperbole going on. The story looks at the explosion of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. These invasive creatures—which likely got their start in the area when owners who bought them from pet stores released them—can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds, and yet are surprisingly hard to find despite their size. They have decimated the Everglades' population of small mammals—rabbits, raccoons, opossums, etc.—a phenomenon maybe best exemplified by the disappearance of once-common roadkill. It's possible hundreds of thousands of pythons live in the Everglades now, and the story by Ian Frazier focuses on the fight for "containment and control," because outright elimination is impossible.
Frazier accompanies a team led by biologist Ian Bartoszek of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida into the Everglades and details their main method: They currently follow 23 "sentinel" males fitted with radio transmitters, and those males lead them to breeding females (sometimes with up to 100 eggs) that are captured and euthanized. Non-sentinel males meet the same fate, though some are turned into sentinels themselves. One all-star sentinel named Elvis has led them to 17 other pythons alone. The story has plenty of heebie-jeebie moments: In a burrow, Bartoszek once found a "breeding ball" of pythons—a 14-foot female and six males. "We were catching snakes so fast, each of us had one in each hand, and I was standing on the others so they couldn’t get away," he recalls. Read the full story. (Read more burmese python stories.)