KEY WEST, Fl - Two long-abandoned military buildings in the Florida Keys that were once used as missile shelters were recently found to be housing another inhabitant – invasive and damaging Burmese pythons.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says four large snakes, including a nearly 16-foot long female, were found within the past month at the old missile base at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The 6,500-acre refuge includes an area in which the military once had a Nike Hercules missile firing range, where soldiers were trained to fire the nuclear-armed missiles at Cold War-era enemies. The range closed three decades ago, but several buildings remain, including the bunkers, which are under mounds of earth.
“Snakes like deep, dark places,” said Crocodile Lake manager Jeremy Dixon in a press release about the pythons.
The harmful python has been a persistent problem in the Everglades, and scientists fear they snakes are now moving south “where several Keys species are defenseless against the large, invasive reptiles.”
Dixon said the area at Crocodile Lake is also home to black rats and hundreds of feral cats, both of which are food sources for the snakes.
“The easy availability of food means the pythons could thrive on the Keys just as easily as they have multiplied in the Everglades,” the press release said. “For more than two decades, an array of big snakes have spread and bred in the Everglades. Their presence has had a devastating effect on native birds, deer and other species in the park.”
Wildlife officials encourage anyone who sees a python to report the details so hunters can try to remove it. To report a python sighting, call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-483-4681 or go online at www.IveGot1.org.