Jun 30, 2022 - News

How a hurricane hurled snakes into the South Florida wild

A newspaper clipping from the New Press of Fort Myers on Sept. 22, 1992, with the headline that reads "Several animals still loose."

A clipping from the News-Press of Fort Myers, Sept. 22, 1992, via Newspapers.com

We recently reported about the record-breaking 215-pound Burmese python captured in the Everglades, and how tens of thousands of these invasive snakes now compete with the endangered Florida panther for food.

  • And we said it has long been believed that the Burmese pythons were first introduced to the Everglades by exotic pet owners who turned the snakes loose when they got too big. True.

Yes, but: There's another fascinating part of the story that a sharp-eyed reader pointed out: While the first reports of pythons in the Everglades were in the 1980s, it was Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that slung lots of snakes all at once into the wilds of South Florida, per a 2018 CBS News documentary.

  • Call it a hurrisnake? A snakiccane? Turn on your windshield vipers.

Flashback: The documentary quotes reports from state environmental inspectors 10 days after the Category 5 hurricane destroyed some 63,000 homes and freed thousands of animals, saying, "Witnesses spotted hundreds of large snakes and non-venomous snakes loose."

Fact check: The newspapers ran routine strange snake stories in the months after Andrew.

  • One snake dealer said all 60 of his boa constrictors slithered away. A 19-foot python was found floating in Biscayne Bay.
  • "I arrived to find four little girls with tears running down their faces, and the guy screaming frantically, 'That's my cat in that snake!'" animal trapper Todd Hardwick told the Associated Press in a story from Sept. 22, 1992. "I went over to the bushes and there was a python over there with a monstrous lump in it."

The bottom line: "It's going to be several months before we can assess the environmental damage from Hurricane Andrew," Jerry Thompson of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission told the Tampa Tribune in September 1992.

  • Thirty years later, we're still trying to figure it out.

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