Everglades Species Profile: Eastern Indigo Snake

eastern indigo snakeAlthough the Burmese python is an invasive species threatening the Everglades, the wetland does have several native snakes that DO belong in this habitat. One such snake is the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi). This snake is federally threatened.

Eastern indigo snakes are large, black, non-venomous snakes found in the Everglades and other areas in the southeastern United States. It ranges in size from 60 to 84 inches. Sometimes, these snakes will have a little bit of red coloring in their chin, throat, and cheek areas. Like most snakes, they eat fish, frogs, toads, other snakes, lizards, turtles, turtle eggs, small alligators, birds, and small mammals. Young eastern indigo snakes opt to eat invertebrates.

In the Everglades, this species of snake is not found in large numbers. They like to be in flatwoods, pine rocklands, dry prairies, tropical hardwood hammocks, costal dunes, edges of freshwater marshes, agricultural fields, and habitats altered by humans.

The reason this snake is a threatened species is due to a population decline by people domestically and internationally collecting and selling this snake in the pet trade. Also, the snake has been dying off due to rattlesnake collectors who gassed gopher tortoise burrows to collect snakes; however, collecting has declined due to law enforcement.  Overall, habitat loss has become one of the snakes biggest threats. With more human development, the mortality rate of this snake increases, because people or domesticated animals are killing the snake, along with it being killed on roads. Pesticides, in areas that humans have developed, have been known to harm this snake, as well.

This snake is active during the day; they prefer wetter areas in the summer and drier areas in the winter.

When threatened, the eastern indigo snake have been known to flatten their heads, hiss, and rattle their tails. However, they are not known to be biters.

It is believed any additional threats to this snake will cause it to begin to disappear from certain areas. It’s predicted that there will be many isolated, small groups of the eastern indigo snake, which will make it hard for this snake to reproduce and grow into bigger populations.

Since the Everglades is preserved land and is continued to be a restored environment, the eastern indigo snake has a safer habitat to thrive in.

Want to try and spot the threatened snake on your next trip to the Everglades? You might be able to see one while aboard an airboat. Airboats brings you around areas of the Everglades that you cannot get to by foot. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun time. To book a airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.


Burmese Pythons in the Everglades

burmese pythonOne of the biggest threats to a balanced ecosystem in the Everglades is the Burmese pythons. These snakes are an invasive species in the wetland. The python happens to love the Everglades, but this wetland cannot handle its presence. Pythons prey on almost anything in their path, and have been known to cause a large depletion in the rabbit, opossum, wading birds, racoons and other small populations population in the area. Its only predators are the American alligator and the Florida panther. However, these pythons can put up a fight and a recent video take by someone in the Everglades showed an alligator losing a fight with a python in water.

The state of Florida currently pays $8.10 per hour for people to hunt the Burmese pythons living in the Everglades. Up until June 1, there were 25 hunters killing pythons in the Everglades. These hunters use traps, dogs, public round ups, and radio-tracking implants to find and capture these snakes.  According to the South Florida Water Management District, there could anywhere from 10,000 to even more than 100,000 pythons slithering around the Everglades; they are not easy to find. The District is paying $50 for every snake caught, and an additional $25 if the snake is more than 4 feet in length. In April, the 50th Burmese was caught. The hunt began on March 25.

With each capture, the District and hunters hope the populations of other species from birds and small mammals to deer will begin to rise. Not only to these pythons’ lower animal populations by eating them, but they harm the population who eats them! These snakes’ bodies hold high levels of mercury, which can poison any animal or reptile that eats them. The pythons’ presence in the Everglades is changing the entire ecosystem.

Earlier this year, the 2016 Python Challenge occurred from January 16 to February 14; it was held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.  106 pythons were turned in.

Unfortunately, these pythons found their way into the Everglades after being released by many people who had them as pets; they are native to Asia. If you want to participate in next year’s challenge, click here. There are plenty of things you need to know and do before going python hunting.

If python hunting isn’t your thing, visit the Everglades in a much more relaxing way… on an airboat tour! This is your chance to see the Everglade’s wonderful wildlife that is still around, despite pythons and climate change issues. To book a tour, click the Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours page or call 239-695-3377.

Poisonous Snakes of the Everglades

Twenty three snake species live in the Everglades. Of these 23, only four are venomous. Many people have a fear of snakes, and with several being poisonous, it makes sense why people prefer to stay away from these slithering creatures. However, these reptiles are an important part of the ecosystem of the Everglades. They control and prey on the number of rodents, invertebrates and other snakes. These snakes are also a food source for birds and alligators.

Types of Poisonous Snakes

The four venomous species of snacks found within the Everglades are: The Eastern coral snake, the Florida cottonmouth, the dusky pigmy rattlesnake, and the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

Eastern Coral Snake – This snake is beautiful in color with red, yellow, and black bands running down its body. It prefers a wooded habitat and is considered to be very elusive in nature, since it spends a lot of time under ground or beneath foliage. Coral snakes are not confrontational and account for less than one percent of all bites that occur in North America every year; however, their bite is the most venomous of all the snakes on the continent. Its bite isn’t overly painful, but can cause death within a few hours.

Florida Cottonmouth – This snake is common and is also known as the “water moccasin.” It is a type of pit viper, and is the only semiaquatic viper species in the world. In the Everglades, this snake can be found around shallow waters like streams and marshes; they are strong swimmers. The cottonmouth is usually all black, brown, tan or olive; it also has a very thick body and can be up to six feet long. Its bite is painful and can lead to death.

Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake—The dusky pigmy rattlesnake is a small snake (between two to three feet) that can be found in both wet and dry areas. Its coloring is gray with black/brown dorsal spots across its back with white flecks on the stomach. This snake is known to be aggressive and quick to bite with no warning. Since its fangs are small, it only releases a small amount of venom with a bite. Its bite is rarely fatal, but can post to be a greater risk to a child or pet.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake – This snake is the biggest of the venomous snake in both mass and length; it has been known to grow up to eight feet.  This snake is a great swimmer, often found by water; it is known to live underground sometimes. The diamondback rattlesnake has dark diamonds across its body, each separated by a whiteish color. Although extremely venomous, diamondbacks are not aggressive and try to warn a potential threat by rattling their tails.

How to Spot /Handle a Poisonous Snake

It’s not always easy to spot a poisonous snake because they can look similar to many non-venomous snakes. However, there are some general guidelines of differentiating a venomous snake from a non-venomous one.

  1. Most snakes with a triangular head are venomous.
  2. Snakes with length-wise stripes are non-venomous.

You also want to do your best to avoid interaction with one of these. Do not approach or touch the snake if you’re unsure of what species the snake is. If you want snakes to stay away from you, it’s a good idea to make a lot of noise while walking, so the snakes are aware you’re around. It’s best to keep your hands out of potential snake hiding spots (logs, brush, leaves, rock piles), as well. Also, keep on the trails; you’re less likely to run into a snake on a cleared path.

Sail by the Snakes
Snakes, although not the friendliest creatures, can still be quite the sight to see. But, you may not want to run into them, especially the venomous kind. An airboat tour is a great way to stay safe in the Everglades without running the risk of encountering a snake. The ride will also give you chance to see the habitat of these snakes. To check out the beautiful ecosystem that the snakes contribute to, book an airboat ride with Captain Mitch through the Everglades today!

Everglades Python Challenge: the hunt for an invasive species

burmese python

Over the weekend, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission kicked off an annual initiative to rid South Florida of the invasive Everglades python. The challenge began Saturday January 16, when the sunshine state launched an incentivized hunt that will last all month.

The python in question, the Burmese Python, belongs far away from Florida (in Southeast Asia to be exact), which is why the state will award cash prizes to two captors: a reward for whoever catches the most snakes and another for whoever catches the largest one. Burmese pythons can reach 23 feet in length and 200 pounds in weight.

And though the python is adjusting quite nicely to the Everglades habitat, the Everglades is not adjusting well to its presence. Since these snakes have no predators other than the American alligator and the Florida panther, they can feed on most anything in their path. This results in the depletion of the area’s rabbit, opossum and raccoon populations. It also affects defenseless endangered species like certain wading birds or small mammals.

But the threat of the Everglades python doesn’t stop there. Because Burmese pythons house a high concentration of mercury in their bodies, they can poison the predators that eat them. This means the already endangered Florida panther and the American alligator, otherwise known as “the king of the Everglades,” are also at risk. Essentially, the invasive existence of the Burmese python poses detrimental changes to the delicate Everglades ecosystem.

With the 2016 Python Challenge, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes to rid the Everglades of these nuisance snakes. But this accomplishment is easier said than done. Dubbed a “high-risk species” by the U.S. Geological Survey, Burmese pythons are so difficult to eradicate due to their elusive nature and the camouflaged Everglades terrain in which they thrive. For instance, the 2013 Python Challenge consisted of 1,600 hunters who caught a total of 68 snakes. Only 600 participants registered for this year’s hunt, and the results are to be determined.

Although no concrete data exists to prove just how many Burmese pythons now reside in the Everglades, experts believe there are tens of thousands of the snakes in wild Florida. And the USGS attributes this infestation to humans. Believe it or not, people once kept these monstrous snakes as pets. When Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, multiple Burmese pythons escaped from a breeding facility and made their way to the Everglades. Python owners are also known to release their pets into Everglades wilderness.

Everglades Python Safety

Though unprovoked attacks are rare, Burmese pythons have struck humans before. React to an Everglades python the way you would react to an alligator. Remember to back away slowly and keep your eyes trained on the snake. It’s important to read the animal’s body language to observe any signs of aggression. Hissing and thrashing could mean an impending attack.

Do you have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Before participating in the 2016 Python Challenge, you need to learn about the animal, the environment and how to catch it. First, complete the 30-minute training module found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Then, complete the 10-question quiz. You must receive an 80 percent or higher to register. The cost to participate is $25 for an individual or $75 for a team.

Don’t have what it takes to catch an Everglades python?

Hunting pythons isn’t for everyone, but there are other ways to enjoy Everglades wilderness. If you’re not ready for a python hunt, opt for an Everglades airboat tour. This family-friendly activity puts you a safe distance from Everglades pythons while exposing you to the beauty of an ever-changing ecosystem. To book your Everglades airboat tour, contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.

Venomous Snakes of the Everglades

coral snake

A coral snake.

While there are twenty-seven known species of snake that live in the Everglades, fortunately, only four of them are actually venomous:

Also known as the water moccasin, cottonmouths are a type of pit viper found mostly in the Southeastern United States. They are the only semiaquatic viper species in the entire world, and they can typically be found in or around shallow lakes, streams, and marshes. Though cottonmouths do prefer freshwater environments, they have been spotted in the ocean and are considered to be extremely strong swimmers. Cottonmouths are relatively plain in appearance, usually almost entirely black or in varying shades of brown, tan, or olive, and are thick-bodied snakes that can reach lengths of up to six feet. Notoriously aggressive, adult cottonmouths are capable of inflicting bites that are extremely painful and potentially fatal.

Diamondback Rattlesnake
Diamondbacks are another type of venomous pit viper commonly found in the Southeastern United States. They are the largest type of rattlesnake in North America and the biggest of all venomous snakes, though only in mass, not in length, though they can reach over eight feet long. Diamondback rattlesnakes can be found near water at times and are excellent swimmers, but prefer forests, woodlands, and areas of wet prairie during dry periods. They have also been known to live underground at times, utilizing former burrows of gophers and gopher tortoises. Although diamondbacks can deliver fatal bites, they are not typically aggressive and will usually warn anyone who comes too close to them by rattling their anteriors.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
Also commonly known as the Florida ground rattlesnake, dusky pygmy rattlesnakes are much smaller than diamondbacks, and often do not exceed two or three feet in length. This species can, however, be quite beautiful in appearance, with a series of black or brown round dorsal spots across their backs, and with whitish, flecked bellies. These small snakes can be feisty and quick to bite, and unlike their diamondback cousins, rarely give out any warnings by shaking their rattles. Fortunately, their fangs are small and deliver relatively low doses of venom with each bite, so while their bites are said to be severely painful, they very rarely are fatal, though small children and pets are at a greater risk.

Coral Snake
Don’t let their good looks fool you, because these beautiful and colorful snakes certainly pack a mean punch. Noted for their red, yellow, and black banded coloring, coral snakes can be particularly dangerous because they so closely resemble other non-venomous species of snake with banded patterns, such as the milk snake and the scarlet snake. Coral snakes are quite elusive and prefer to spend the majority of their time below ground or hiding beneath foliage. They are very shy and will always prefer flight over fight, and although they have one of the most potent venoms of all North American snakes, they account for less than 1% of all snake bites that occur each year. Unlike other venomous snakes, the bite of a coral snake is reportedly not very painful, but can cause death within a few short hours.

To observe these fascinating creatures in their natural environment and from a safe distance, head out into the Everglades on an airboat ride with Captain Mitch. Everglades tours are not only exciting for the whole family, but give you the perfect opportunity to safely view dangerous animals that you might not want to encounter otherwise.