Tallahassee Photographer Joins Snake Researchers

South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve has a new artist in residence
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The brush was so thick in spots that a person might easily lose sight of others walking in front of him if he were to pause and briefly turn his head.

Alternately, photographer Randy Traynor of Tallahassee found himself in waist-high water as he trudged through the Big Cypress National Preserve with National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey personnel on a research-and-removal mission. The target: invasive Burmese pythons.

The massive snakes have established themselves in alarming numbers in the swamp and have become its top-of-the-food-chain predator. The deer population has suffered as a result. Even alligators best back off.

“We parked at the side of a road where a male python that had been equipped with a radio transmitter had been released a week earlier,” Traynor said. “And we just hopped into the swamp and took off trying to find him.”

As part of a cooperative program, the Park Service and the USGS also inject snakes with a female pheromone that attracts other males even as the released males seek — and may lead researchers to — females.

Traynor — at right in photo along with Tony Pernas of the Park Service — spent a few weeks at the swamp this year as part of an artist-in-residence program. The python excursion came as a bonus. The search party would cover three miles before finding the snake, which had been named O.

When they did locate him, O was in the company of three other males and a 15.5-foot female weighing 112 pounds.

O was let go. One male escaped the researchers and two others were placed in bags. Several men combined to shoulder the big female — who exhausted itself after a wrestling match of 40 seconds or so — and carried her back out to the road.

Prior to humanely euthanizing captured snakes, the team obtains saliva and blood samples. Stomach contents are also examined.

“The problem started with released pets,” Traynor explained. “Just like with iguanas and lionfish. Non-native fish are killing off native species in the swamp.”

Big Cypress National Preserve works constantly to control a variety of invasive plants and animals.  Many of these species are extremely difficult to manage. Burmese pythons are currently the primary focus of invasive wildlife control efforts.

Other environmental changes are quickly altering the swampscape. Saltwater is intruding upon the swamp. And, mangroves are coming along with it. All of these developments Traynor documented during his stay.

He recommends that anyone who gets the chance take part in a guided swamp walk at Big Cypress.

“But avoid gator mating season,” he said. “They’re more aggressive then.”

Categories: Great Outdoors