Burmese Python Bite Would 'Tear the Skin Wide Open,' Florida Hunter Says

A man who caught an 18-foot Burmese python in Florida last week has said trying to escape a bite from the species could "tear the skin right open."

Amateur Burmese python hunter Jake Waleri is currently taking part in the Florida Python Challenge—in which hundreds of participants compete to hunt the huge pythons slithering across southern Florida.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida. They were first introduced to the environment in the 1970s—likely as exotic pets released into the wild. Ever since, they have been extremely destructive to the native ecosystem, and their population is only increasing.

The 10-day hunt, managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), is an effort to remove as many snakes from the ecosystem as possible.

Waleri is an avid hunter, alongside his cousin, Stephen Gauta.

Burmese python florida
A picture shows a huge Burmese python being held by the mouth. Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida. Stephen Gauta

The amateur Burmese python hunters, along with fellow hunter Joshua Laquis caught the 18-foot, 100-pound Burmese python while driving along the US-41 near Monroe Station.

The snake wasn't a record breaker, but it came very close. In June, a team of python trackers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida caught the python that holds the record, which also measured 18 feet.

Waleri told Newsweek that he's participating in the annual Burmese python hunt as he reckons he has a good shot at a prize, particularly after such a huge catch.

"I'm personally participating this year because I feel I have a shot at either first or second place in the amateur division. This has been a great month of hunting for me and my cousin Steve, and so we're really enjoying getting out there to challenge ourselves against the rest of the field of competition," Waleri said.

"I think the Florida Python Challenge is really interesting because it incentivizes every day citizens to go out and help fix a problem that has clearly caused major issues for our state. The chance at winning a cash prize gets a lot of people up off the couch and out into nature, and after the challenge is over, many people discover that they actually enjoy python hunting enough to do it regularly in their free time."

There are several categories in the challenge, including "Professional" and "Novice." Prizes are awarded for each. These prizes include awards for individuals who catch the most pythons ($2,500 for first place, $750 for second place) and the longest ($1,500 for first place, $750 for second place). Huge, female pythons are particularly desirable, as euthanizing them means fewer eggs get laid.

Participants in the challenge are obligated to kill pythons in a way that minimizes suffering. Pythons that aren't killed in this way can't be part of the challenge. Once a python is caught, participants can drop the snakes off at a check in desk, where they will then be observed by officials.

Burmese pythons are non-venomous, but they pack a powerful bite. The snakes can have up to 100 teeth, which are extremely sharp and curved. A bite from one could cause puncture wounds, and if its deep enough, could cause internal damage.

Waleri said he doesn't consider the python challenge "especially dangerous," however there are safety pointers to consider.

Watch Out for Alligators

"When catching a python near water, it's always good to lookout for any large gators below the surface or in the area. My main concern is other automobiles though. When hunting right next to a major road, I've got to watch out for any distracted drivers that might drift a little to far out of their lane and hit me or my truck," he said.

"And of course there's always the danger of getting bit by a python. I've found that if it looks like I'm going to get bit, it's best to just let it happen. If a python sinks it's teeth into my hand, it's going to hurt a lot worse if I pull away because it will just tear the skin wide open. Most python bites don't pose any major danger as long as the snake isn't larger than 10 feet or so."

Burmese pythons can grow to huge sizes, but they are an elusive species that are good at hiding. However Waleri said the techniques he and Gauta use are "relatively simple," yet effective.

"We hunt from the bed of a pickup truck traveling about 10 mph, using powerful spotlights to look from the road down into the swamp. Typically pythons can be found right near the road at night.

I usually hunt right along US-41 or on Turner River road," Waleria said.

Gauta told Newsweek that this technique is known as "road cruising."

"Once we find a snake we get between it and the swamp and grab it behind its head so it can't bite us. Usually the wrapping isn't a problem because we have thumbs unlike other animals, so we can just unwrap the snake," Gauta said.

However for much larger snakes, this can be more difficult, such as the near 18-foot one they captured last week.

Burmese python florida
Stephen Gauta is pictured with an 18-foot Burmese python. They caught the snake last week in southern Florida. Stephen Gauta

"For a large snake like this it took multiple people to fight it. I grabbed behind the head while Jake and Josh controlled the body. Usually not much can go wrong unless you grab too far forward or back on the head," he said. Then you'll get bit, and since these snakes have backwards facing teeth the bite can be pretty bad. I use to get nervous but I've caught enough pythons now where it feels pretty routine while grabbing the snakes."

This year's challenge runs from 8 a.m. on August 5, 2022, until 5 p.m. on August 14. It's not just the cash prize that incentivizes these amateur hunters.

"The challenge interests me because I love getting outdoors and learning more about the wildlife in south Florida," Gauta said. "Since these pythons are such a destructive force I feel like it's my responsibility to go and take part in a the python challenge to give our native wildlife a fighting chance."

Burmese python florida
A picture shows Stephen Gauta holding the 18-foot snake they caught last week. The Florida challenge is now under way. Stephen Gauta