Both voters and pythons turned out for Election Day in Key Largo, as two reports of big snakes -- likely to be invasive pythons -- were called into a state hotline on election night Nov. 6.
"I got more calls in that one night than I get in some months," said Jim Duquesnel, a biologist working on a U.S. Geological Survey project to keep exotic snakes from gaining a foothold in the Florida Keys.
The reports were miles apart so they were probably not the same snake, he said.
The best report came from a woman driving on U.S. 1 near mile marker 102.2. The snake was crossing the highway, headed toward Florida Bay, but retreated to the oceanside. The woman reached the "I've Got 1" hotline -- (888) 483-4681 -- for invasive species but the call went to a recording system rather than a state dispatcher. A search of the area hours later didn't result in finding the snake.
"If somebody has one in front of them, we want to get people out there to remove it right then," said Cheryl Millett, a biologist with The Nature Conservancy who coordinates the Python Patrol hotline and response.
The effort to prevent big invasive snakes from breeding in the environmentally sensitive Keys comprises several state and federal agencies, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Georgia.
The "I've Got 1" program was launched in the Keys five years ago because of the threat from Burmese pythons. It now has been expanded statewide and into the Caribbean for reporting other invasive species, both plant and animal.
Nine pythons have been captured on Key Largo and North Key Largo over the past several years, most recently in August. Hundreds have been captured or confirmed in Miami-Dade County and the Everglades.
"We need everybody's eyes," Millett said Thursday. "Pythons are well-camouflaged and can be really hard to see even if you're looking for them."
On Sunday, Duquesnel made his rounds on North Key Largo, near Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park, checking dozens of coffin-like python traps arrayed in nearby woods.
A few are baited with live rats, held in an interior cage and provided with ample food and water. Other traps are positioned along a long plastic fence intended to funnel the snakes into the traps.
Millett said cooler weather should bring an increase in python sightings.
"They can't stay underground and have to get into the sun to stay warm," she said. "They're also a bit more sluggish in the cold."
Callers to the hotline should listen to the voicemail menu, which can direct them to a live dispatcher for immediate response or to a recording system for delayed reports. ___
(c)2012 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)
Visit the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.) at www.keysnet.com
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