Python hunters worry about snakes slithering north, possibly toward Central Florida

Could Central Floridians one day walk by a local lake or wetland and see a wild python hunting food? Don’t rule it out completely.

Officials in South Florida are watching the invasive snake population carefully, concerned they may be expanding as the reptiles' food supply seems to be dwindling in the area.

"Over 95 percent of our fur-baring animals in the Everglades have been taken out by these snakes,” said Randy Smith, from the South Florida Water District.

Smith’s team has been monitoring the snake population in the Florida Everglades for years and just opened a hunter program in the past year to try to counter that invading species. 

In just that time, Smith said the organization’s 25 hunters have taken out 1,070 pythons.

In just the last week, one of the district’s hunters caught a python on camera trying to eat an alligator. 

Smith said some of those hunters are now worried those snakes, possibly numbering in the 10,000s to 100,000s in the Everglades, may have to move to survive.

"We have concerns and are interested in seeing if the python habitat is expanding,” Smith said.

So now, the water district’s hunting program is expanding north, as far as Palm Beach County. 

Smith said there’s no indicator what they’ll find there, but they need to find out if the population is moving that far north.

If that does prove true: Could those snakes keep moving as far as Central Florida?

"We don't know and it'd be hard to speculate,” Smith said.

Smith said Central Florida does appear to be a tough push for the pythons. 

He said pythons in particular need a very warm climate to survive, and the Miami area is proving to be a very compatible home.

Smith said winters might get just a little too cold in the Orlando area for those snakes to survive.

However, there are a lot of unknowns about how those pythons are interacting with Florida in general. 

Smith said his guys will keep watching and keep doing all they can to keep those pythons from becoming more of a problem than they already are.