Who’s more Floridian? Me or the snake?


Florida regularly seems tame, a place of beach resorts, condos and Disney World. Yet not too far off the win path, regularly in our back yards, the wilder side of the state scampers, slithers and grows. In the new anthology, The Wilder love of Florida, 34 authors tell tales of the fragile, beautiful and also strange nature around us and also why it’s worth protecting. In this reprinted essay, originally titled “Feast that Pythons,” Isaac Eger heads out for a moonlit night that python hunting in the Everglades. 

I asked, “How will I recognize when I view one?”


Somewhere deep in the Everglades, ns pointed the spotlight in ~ the night ahead of the van that carried us follow me the crushed limestone course of Levee 28.

You are watching: How many pythons are in the everglades

“It’s just one that those points you’ll understand when you watch it,” who said.

The levee’s roadway ran so directly for so long that the light obtained gobbled increase by all the dark and also looked like it might go ~ above forever. Ns pointed the light earlier to the levee’s banks, looking for something that wasn’t an alleged to be there. We were python hunting. Trying to do Florida organic again.


The van belonged come a real Florida boy, part generations deep, who name, ns shit friend not, is Dusty Crum. Dusty, who lives in Sarasota, is a renowned python hunter. He’s got his very own TV show, except on the display they usually hunt during the day and on foot. However the snakes room most active at night. Once all the various other critters are out. Over there weren’t any other critters tonight however for an occasional palm rat. The snakes had consumed most every little thing else.

Dusty’s 38 years old, but you could confuse him because that someone lot older. Not since he looks old—though he’s gained a lot of gray in his beard and long hair that drops under a dirty baseball cap—but because he looks choose he belongs come the land, and also the soil in Florida appears ancient, favor something the dinosaurs could have enjoyed.

I asked, “How plenty of snakes space out here?”


“A lot,” Dusty said. “Hundreds the thousands.”

*

Nowhere on earth do invasive varieties thrive like they carry out in Florida. It just took about two decades for this pythons come eat damn near everything and also usurp gators together the apex killer. Native varieties don’t stand a chance. I, too, am a Florida native—a reality I’ve started to parade around now that Florida is literary hot shit. A reality that might not seem so meaningful since this is my very first time actually setup foot in the Everglades. I’d propelled through it, countless times, on that 80-mile-long concrete lesion we contact Alligator Alley.

But i’m here, trying to acquire my bona fides, searching invasive Burmese pythons, make the efforts to conserve what’s left the what Florida’s supposed to be since the Florida I prospered up in turns out to it is in a counterfeit.


Florida is a weird land complete of strangers. When I to be young it to be the tourists that were the foreigners, and all the tiny precious creatures and also trees i loved from my childhood, these points that I thought were here prior to we had actually a name for anything, were true Florida nature. Then i learned that I’d loved invaders. Brown anoles native Cuba. Australian pines. Those tadpoles I’d gather after a difficult rain, fed lettuce to and also released ago into the wild—those to be Cuban tree frogs the swallowed our smaller native types whole. The once beloved things of mine childhood I should reimagine as marauding aliens, corrupting the balance of what was an alleged to be.

So here I am. Comprising for it. Do Florida natural again.

Dusty’s girlfriend Natalie journey the truck. She chain-smoked Marlboro Golds while a beagle v a red bandana roughly its neck named Riley sat shotgun.


The truck ambled simply fast enough so the the bugs didn’t stroked nerves us. You can still see them flying all approximately from the bright of the vehicle. The bugs turn white in the light us created and looked prefer a flurry of snow that didn’t know which way to fall. Ns sat in a chair propped increase high in the middle of the bed the the truck. A lengthy metal slat overcome the ago of the truck so that two others could hang turn off either side and watch both the levee banks and also quickly hop turn off if a python acquired spotted. Dusty was on the left, and his friend Gregory sat on the right.

“Back up, back up!” Dusty shouted in ~ Natalie. The hit the roof that the truck through the flat of his palm.

The van reversed. It was nothing. A please branch. Natalie placed the truck back into drive.


“The pythons come up on the dry financial institutions of the levee come lay eggs and also hunt,” Dusty explained.

*

Dusty learned that from firsthand experience—he isn’t a biologist. He’s just been hunting pythons since 2012, as soon as a TV present sponsored a python removal competition. Dusty and his friends have actually taken that upon themselves to save the Everglades. Before they acquired state permission to patrol the levee, they’d ride your bikes up and also down the levee throughout the midday summer heat. The snake they captured would be as well heavy—sometimes end 100 pounds—to carry all at once, so they’d have to go earlier and forth, carrying probably one in ~ a time.

*

Now Dusty better knows the trade, and also we chatted about the service end the things. How he might have the ability to turn a profit the end of this endeavor of his. He is skinning the snakes, transforming their scaly hide right into leather. Eat the meat. A Cambodian neighbor is transforming the guts right into some sort of timeless antiarthritic medicine. Yet the oriental market provides these snake pelts because that pennies ~ above the dollar, fattening them increase in cages top top snake farms like some type of cold-blooded veal. It would certainly be tough to imagine Dusty a rich guy anyway. Always says he is doing this because that the land and also not a buck. I think him because he’s not cruel.

Dusty said, “It ain’t their fault. Castle beautiful creatures just doing what God created ’em come do. That not choose I gained anythin’ an individual against ’em. I just care much more about our native future.”

They need to kill them when they capture them. Offered to be that Dusty would carry the snakes back to the Florida Fish and also Wildlife Conservation commission officials and they’d euthanize the pythons. Now he’s got to kill them in the field unless that runs right into someone else who will do it because that him. Yes sir a dime-sized kill spot top top the optimal of your skull. A .22 rifle go it.


“It’s sad killing the little ones right as soon as they hatch. Castle kinda cute,” Dusty said.

Besides the battery-powered spotlights in our hands, a bar the LED lights about two feet long was hooked to loosened wires the led back to the engine that the truck.

“That’s part hucklebuck shit there, boy.” That’s how Dusty explained his electric setup. “Gotta make execute with what girlfriend got,” that clarified. A the majority of his truck he referred to as hucklebuck, i m sorry is Floridian for jerry-rigged.


Not long right into the journey under Levee 28, the lamp died. Dusty and Greg popped the hood and peered right into the smoking engine.

“Fuse is every fucked up,” claimed Greg.

“You done sabotaged me, son,” Dusty said, just sort of joking.


The moon swung just above our top to the left, and also the bugs started to soil on us and also taste our skin. The light rested in the bottom third of the moon choose it to be a bowl filled through white water.

“That means there are lots of fish all set to bite,” Greg called me. “And as soon as the moon is gone, the snakes will come out.” the smiled.

There to be a many optimism around this hunt.


The lights come back, and the van went on.

It was hard to tell just how much time had actually passed. So lot of the Everglades to be the same. A thick green loop interrupted only by the sometimes dead amber that a please tree.

There were plenty of sounds. Buzzing and clicking. Hefty drones and distant yelps. Sound of points I didn’t understand belonged come what.


I believed of all the points I didn’t understand the name of. Ns knew the Burmese python, though. Why didn’t they evolve right here if it offer them therefore well? It makes survival of the fittest it seems to be ~ inaccurate somehow. You can’t be too fit, i thought. Irony is, the Burmese python is endangered in its native habitat.

I never ever bothered come ask Dusty around politics. That wore a nothing Tread top top Me hat, and also that can mean a few things. Conservation is conservative. I suppose once you live close to the land, you’re walking to feeling it readjust first. Florida is changing, is changed. Dusty is trying to slow that change. But if friend ask that if it’s feasible to escape Florida that the pythons, he won’t kid you. The snakes are here to stay, are a part of Florida for yet long Florida will be. News programs end their segments around Dusty v that influenced cadence: these pythons . . . May have finally . . . Met your match. However it’s just an plot of God that might return the land. For this reason fighting this snakes i do not care symbolic. It’s a tangible opponent. The an altering world is something past touch. You can’t be exterior of a system and also hold the while the holds you. Yet you can grab this snakes behind the mandible and also drag them the end of the world.

The van veered turn off to the right. Natalie had actually fallen asleep. The 3 of us offered a holler and also slapped the truck. We went down the embankment. Ns readied myself to give up ship. She hit the brakes, and also the van stopped and then teetered. Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly steep incline. If we had actually flipped, Greg would have actually been a goner. We obtained the truck out and ago onto the road.


There’s other uncomfortably familiar around the fervor behind searching invasive species. I’d hunted lionfish before—another invader menacing the waters that Florida. I’d eliminated them through a feeling of righteousness. Fish, i am obligated to support this spear with your face. I’d always felt bad about killing anything—even a fish—but due to the fact that I to be told this was a wicked fish, death it was an excellent and feel good. A promotional poster for the 2019 Tampa only Spearfishing an obstacle crossed my society media feed.

Underneath one illustration of the Skyway bridge is an excessively muscular merman with acquainted blond hair in front of a wall. He is pointing a gun at a spooked lionfish. The guy who post the snapshot wrote: This is my brand-new favorite relenten of mine America. Merman trump defending the wall surface with his Glock.

It to be after 4 in the morning, and we hadn’t found anything. Everyone seemed disappointed—probably on mine behalf. They wanted me to watch the problem for myself. It seemed odd wishing to see the thing. Wasn’t it much better that they weren’t there?


As a kind of consolation, Dusty pulled the end the 15-footer he’d recorded the night before. The line lay in a bag—I think it was a pillowcase. Dusty pulled it the end of a compartment attached come the side of his truck. I meant him come flop the thing out onto the ground the means you would a bag of trash, however he was an extremely gentle. 

The line was out and seemed to know it have to escape, however it didn’t move with great desperation. She to be beautiful. There to be a surprise symmetry to the skin that my mind can not quite number out. Dusty said me come grab the snake by the ago of the head, however not come grip her to death. He draped the snake over mine shoulders. She to be heavy and felt waxy and also cool in my hands like she was impervious come the humidity. She was docile. Choose she had given up, knew her fate and was at peace with that.

*

The writer with a recorded snake.


Image: Courtesy Photo


Dusty took pictures of me to show my friends.


The Florida we space trying to preserve is the Florida that serves us. I wondered what made me any much more Floridian 보다 this line in my arms. Since I to be born here? i thought around oranges. They aren’t from here, either. The Spanish carried them below from Europe, and the Portuguese carried them over there from China 500 years ago. Currently they’re ~ above our patent plates.

We lugged her here and also now we space trying to get rid of her. She’s just doing the only thing she to know how. It overcome my mind that I should let she go.

See more: How Much Did 9/11 Cost S Of The 20, Evaluating The Cost Of 9/11

Excerpted from “Feast the Pythons (Homage come Harry Crews)” through Isaac Eger indigenous The Wilder love of Florida: much more Writers influenced by Florida Nature, edited by Jack E. Davis and Leslie K. Poole. Gainesville: college of Florida Press, 2021. Reprinted with permission.