Long-held myth says Hurricane Andrew sparked Florida’s Burmese python problem. Is it true?

The 1992 hurricane destroyed a python breeding center and could have freed hundreds of Pythons. However, the species that was invasive may have already been able to establish itself in the Everglades even before the storm arrived.

It is believed Burmese Pythons ( Python bivittatus) started the invasion of Florida in the latter part of the 1970s. (Image source: Rhona Wise/Getty Images)

On August. 4, the hunters of the southern part of Florida will begin a slaying of Burmese Pythons as part of an annual contest designed to test the population of snakes that are invasive and under control.

Burmese Pythons ( Python bivittatus) are native to southeast Asia, moving through dense forests and swamps, grasslands, and wetlands. However, these snakes- which could grow to more than 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall -also establish an invading population in the southern part of Florida, which has devastated local ecosystems, with snakes eating prey as big as deer and alligators.

Researchers aren’t sure what caused the animals to gain a place in the state. However, one theory suggests that the invading snakes first appeared in 1992, when the storm Andrew destroyed the reptile breeding facility in Miami and set Burmese Pythons free across the Sunshine State.

However, many experts believe this is likely an exaggeration of the Pythons” story of origin.

In 1992, Andrew hit the Miami region with a Category 5 hurricane force, rapidly becoming one of the most destructive hurricanes in American history. Over 15 feet (4.5 meters) of surge washed the shoreline, and more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain fell in certain areas, with wind speeds of around 167 miles per hour (269 km/h).

As per The New Yorker, the warehouse containing reptiles in Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami, was destroyed in the storm. An official in the magazine said that he had seen hundreds of Burmese Pythons living in the warehouse. The storm that destroyed the structure, the pythons might have been released into the swampy surroundings of the southeast of Florida.

Many wild animals were let loose after Andrew’s landfall, and some news reports have reported the sightings of giant snakes following the storm’s aftermath. However, individual Burmese Pythons have been observed in the Everglades from at least 1979, and there was no confirmation of reports in the 1980s, as per the 2023 report 2023.

Snakes were not frequently observed in South Florida until, at most, 1995. Although that was three years following Andrew, the timing and location of the python’s arrival don’t correspond with the theory of a storm, according to scientists.

Between 1995 and 2000, 11 pythons were seen and captured from the southwest portion of Everglades National Park — miles from the destroyed reptile enclosure located in Homestead. “When the population started to grow initially, in the 1990s, most of it was 20 miles [32 km] away from that facility,” Dan Simberloff, an Ecologist at the University of Tennessee, told Live Science.

It wasn’t until around the Millennium that snakes began in the Miami region, close to where the warehouse was once.

Based on this location and the population growth rate, a 2011 study concluded that the best reason for the Burmese snake invasion was that a few snakes escaped into the southern Everglades in 1985 or earlier. The population grew gradually until the late 1990s before a rapid increase in population.

An aerial view of Homestead, Florida, after Hurricane Andrew struck. (Image credit: ClassicStock/Getty Images)

The 2023 report mentioned that another distinct introduction of Burmese Pythons could have happened in the southwest region of Florida near Naples.

“While some believe Hurricane Andrew in 1992 caused the python problem, Burmese pythons had been detected here prior to that hurricane, as early as 1979. Several introduction events likely occurred in south Florida,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesperson said to Live Science via email.

However, this doesn’t mean that Hurricane Andrew did not contribute to the spread of snakes, but it’s possible that a few snakes could escape in pet animals after the storm and then join the wild population, Experts say.

“If it was a multiple choice question as to how did Burmese pythons get into the south Florida ecosystem and (A) was ‘Escaped Pet,’ (B) was ‘Intentionally Released,’ and (C) was ‘Meteorological Disturbances’ — I would circle (D): ‘All of the Above,'” Ian Bartoszek who is an environmental scientist working for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said on Live Science.

Simberloff explained that in the last two decades, studies have revealed that various species considered to result from an individual introduction were repeatedly introduced to their new habitats. That also includes brown anoles ( Anolis sagrei), another reptile that has become a problem in Florida.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced his 2021 Python Challenge, where members of the public hunt exotic species to win cash prizes. (Image credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Around 17,000 Burmese Pythons were brought into America. United States between 1970 and 1995 for the pet trade. When you consider the number of pythons that are being imported, some may get released from their owner.

“People can get tired of having a huge snake,” Simberloff said.

As a child in Florida, Bartosek, the owner of Burmese Pythons, also said snakes were “escape artists” — and pets may have sneaked out of their homes in the hot, prey-filled ecosystems in southern Florida. The current law makes it almost always prohibited for animals to be kept as pets in Florida.

The amount of wild Burmese Pythons in Florida isn’t known, but estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands live there. The last Python Challenge saw 231 snakes taken from the Everglades. While initiatives such as these are beneficial in limiting the population, complete elimination is out of the question.


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