Environment

‘Pete’ the python caught lounging on catamaran off Elliott Key

A six-foot Burmese python slithered its way aboard a catamaran anchored off Elliott Key and was caught lounging in the boat’s main salon Tuesday morning.

“We woke up this morning and there it was, just chilling next to the window,” said Jennifer Wirth, captain of the 37-foot About Time catamaran. “We named him Pete.”

Wirth, who is hosting four students aboard the boat for a five-day sailing course, was anchored about three-quarters of a mile from Elliott Key’s shoreline. That means that Pete swam around for a bit on the bay before reaching the boat.

Agents from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were called to remove the snake. It didn’t put up a fight, Wirth said, adding that her sailing students thought it was cool to have a python join then. They affectionately said goodbye to the reptile as an FWC agent used a broom to move it from the window sill onto the floor of the boat and quickly bagged it, she said.

The Burmese python is an invasive species that has taken over the Everglades, becoming a key predator in the fragile ecosystem over the past two decades. Some speculate that pythons that were kept as pets were released by frustrated owners in the late 1970s and started breeding in the wild. Others say the infestation began after Hurricane Andrew smashed into a breeding facility in 1992. Scientists estimate there may be tens of thousands of pythons in the Everglades, preying on native species like marsh rabbits, raccoons, wading birds other small animals, as well as larger species like deer and even young alligators.

Biscayne Bay isn’t a natural habitat for pythons but they have been spotted in the water on a few occasions. In late September park rangers found a large male taking a swim over a mile off the mainland. The snake was 11 feet long and weighed 31 pounds, according to a post on the park’s Facebook page.

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