A group of men from Manatee County took home the top prize from this year’s Python Challenge in the Everglades.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission just released the results this week.
One hundred and six snakes were removed during the month-long competition that took place between Jan. 16 and Feb. 14.
The group, known as the Cypress Boys, won the grand prize for capturing 33 pythons. The team - Captain Bill Booth, Duane Clark, Dusty Crum and Craig Nicks - all took home a $5,000 cash prize.
"You dream of catching 30 snakes, and I said, 'If we can catch one snake a day we’d be doing phenomenal' ," said Booth. "We actually did catch over one snake a day."
The group was also awarded the grand prize for the longest python caught. They captured a 15-foot-long python and received a $3,000 cash prize.
"We are pleased with the success of this year’s Python Challenge," said FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron. "Each python that is removed makes a difference for our native wildlife, and the increased public awareness will help us keep people involved as we continue managing invasive species in Florida."
More than 1,000 people from 29 states took part in the competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Everglades ecosystem.
"I have a passion for the Everglades,” said Booth. "I grew up there. It was my backyard. The snakes don’t belong there."
This was the second time the group participated in the challenge.
“2016 was way more exciting than 2013,” said Crum. “We had a lot more action. We had more snakes to catch for sure.”
The original 2013 Python Challenge resulted in the removal of 68 Burmese pythons. The group said the weather was better for finding the pythons this year compared to the last hunt.
“I think the weather had a lot to do with our success this year,” said Booth. “We had a warm spring and all of the sudden, a few days before the contest, the weather drops off. We actually got cold weather in the Everglades and that played a big part.”
Booth said he thinks this led to the pythons coming up to soak up the sun. When they did, he said, they were able to grab them.
"Once you figure out where the snake is, you know where to look," said Crum.
None of the men have formal snake training. All said they’ve been handling snakes this they were kids and it just comes natural for them. But, they warn this can be dangerous.
Crum was actually bitten by the 29th snake they caught.
"I pulled him out and my hat comes off and all of my hair is in my face and I’m like, 'I can’t see him, but I know I got him,' ” said Crum. "He comes right around and bam! He hits me right on the arm."
He only received a minor wound and was not injured badly.
The men said 95 percent of the snakes were caught alive. They put them in a bag and then turned them into the hunt’s organizers. The snakes were recently returned to them.
Booth said he plans on giving some to friends, eating some of the meat and even making some boots out of the snake skin.
All said they’re ready to go back again for the next challenge.
"We’re ready to do it again," said Crum. "I can’t wait to do it again."
The FWC reports that every Python Removal Competition participant was required to complete an online training module, and more than 500 people also attended in-person trainings, which taught them how to identify, locate and safely and humanely capture Burmese pythons.
"Our staff worked hard to provide these valuable training opportunities throughout South Florida," said Nick Wiley, FWC executive director. "We attribute much of the success to these expanded training opportunities."
In addition to the 2016 Python Challenge, there are several ways the general public can continue to help the FWC manage nonnatives.
People can participate in the FWC’s Python Removal Program, a year-round citizen science program that uses trained individuals to help remove pythons and collect data on pythons on state lands.
People can also take part in ongoing Python Patrol trainings to learn more about how to identify and capture Burmese pythons in the wild. Visit MyFWC.com/Python for more information.
The public can also help manage invasive species by reporting nonnative fish and wildlife to the FWC’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), by reporting sightings online at IveGot1.org or by downloading the IveGot1 smartphone app.
The prize money was provided by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which co-hosted the 2016 Python Challenge along with the FWC.
For more information about the 2016 Python Challenge, visit PythonChallenge.org.
To learn more about Burmese pythons and other nonnative species in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.