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*(Story and photos courtesy of http://www.foxnews.com/)

A Burmese python in the Everglades with a penchant for venison gulped down three whole deer — one doe and two fawns — before wildlife officials captured and euthanized it, a new study reveals.

The gustatory feat sets a record: It’s the first invasive Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) caught with three deer in its gut, said study co-lead author Scott Boback, an associate professor of biology at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

The python probably attacked and ate the deer at different times over a 90-day period, Boback said. That time span may seem long, but it’s actually quite surprising that a snake would eat three enormous meals in a relatively short window, Boback told Live Science. [Photos: This Invasive Python Ate Three Wild Deer]

“If a python is capable of eating three deer in three months,” what else are they eating that we don’t know about, he asked. “We don’t even know how many of them are out there [in the Everglades].”Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but for reasons still shrouded in mystery, they became established in the Everglades during the 1990s. The snakes can grow to be up to 18 feet long in the Everglades (and up to 26 feet long in Southeast Asia). They use their strong muscles to wrap around prey, obstructing their victims’ blood flow until circulation stops.

*(Click gallery images to view full size)

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but for reasons still shrouded in mystery, they became established in the Everglades during the 1990s. The snakes can grow to be up to 18 feet long in the Everglades (and up to 26 feet long in Southeast Asia). They use their strong muscles to wrap around prey, obstructing their victims’ blood flow until circulation stops.

It’s unclear how the python attacked the deer, but the snake may have hid in the water, waiting for the deer to stop for a drink. That would have left the deer within striking distance of the snake, Boback said.

The 15.6-foot-long female snake was almost done digesting its three massive meals when officials caught and euthanized it on June 3, 2013. A necropsy, or animal autopsy, revealed an empty stomach but intestines packed with poop.

The fecal matter was immense: more than 14 lbs., or 13 percent of the snake’s body mass , Boback said. Study co-researchers Teresa Hsu and Suzanne Peurach, scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, sieved through the excrement and found mats of fur and several undigested hooves, bones and teeth, indicating that the python had eaten white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) — and not just one, Boback said.

It’s no surprise that the fur, hooves and teeth were undigested, as pythons can’t break down keratin or enamel, Boback said. However, they can digest bone, which would explain why the researchers found only fragments of bone in the dung, he said.

The size and shape of the hooves — as well as the presence of a deciduous, or baby, tooth — indicated that the adult doe was at least 1 year old and about 99 lbs., one fawn was about 1 month old and 37 lbs. and the other fawn was about 2 weeks old and 29 lbs., the researchers wrote in the study. [In Images: Hungry Python Eats Porcupine Whole]

Python invasion

Pythons are ravenous eaters, and they’ve been wreaking havoc on the Everglades ecosystem, Boback said. The hungry snakes hunt the region’s native animals, including birds, mammals and at least one reptile — the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), the researchers wrote in the study.

Although other Everglades studies have shown correlations between the presence of pythons and a drop in mammals — such as raccoons, opossums, bobcats and rabbits — the new report shows concrete evidence that pythons can eat more than one deer within a short period of time, Boback said.

“It just begs the question, ‘How often are they eating these things?'” he said.

The study was published in the November issue of the journal BioInvasions Records.

Original article on Live Science .

laura-cason

Snook harvest seasonal closure in Gulf starts Dec. 1

The recreational harvest season for snook closes Dec. 1 in Gulf state and federal waters, including Monroe County and Everglades National Park, and will remain closed through Feb. 28, 2017, reopening to harvest March 1, 2017. Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season.

This and other regular season closures are designed to help conserve the species during vulnerable times such as cold weather. Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, will close Dec. 15 this year through Jan. 31, 2017, reopening to harvest Feb. 1, 2017.

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snook” for more information on snook. Improve data and report your catch on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s Angler Action iAngler app.

Hogfish conservation measures

November 23, 2016

Hogfish conservation measures and boundaries set
*(Photo courtesy of Capt. Larry McGuire & Show Me The Fish Charters) 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved several conservation measures that are consistent with federal rules and set a new state management boundary for hogfish at the November meeting in St. Petersburg.

“Hogfish is an economically important species that is popular with the diving and angling community,” said Chairman Brian Yablonski. “This was not an easy decision, but will help balance the species’ needs while still offering opportunities for anglers.”

Hogfish is overfished and undergoing overfishing in the Florida Keys and east Florida. Federal law requires the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to end overfishing immediately and implement a 10-year rebuilding plan.

Because most hogfish off the Keys and east Florida are taken in Florida state waters, consistency with similar regulations pending approval in Atlantic federal waters is necessary to rebuild the stock.

The effective date for the state waters changes has not been determined but once confirmed, a date will be posted on MyFWC.com and will be sent out via an additional press release.

The new state management boundary between the Keys/east Florida and Gulf stocks will be at 25 degrees 9 minutes north latitude (a line due west of Cape Sable, which is on the Gulf side of Florida). Once effective, hogfish north of Cape Sable will be managed as Gulf hogfish, and hogfish south of that line, around the tip of Florida and up the Atlantic coast, will be managed as Atlantic hogfish. Prior to this change, the boundary for hogfish was a line following U.S. Highway 1 in the Florida Keys. This new management boundary line is closer to where Gulf and Atlantic hogfish stocks naturally separate as determined by a recent genetic study.

Other approved conservation changes include:

  • Lowering the Atlantic recreational daily bag limit from five to one fish per harvester.
  • Setting an Atlantic recreational harvest season of May 1 through Oct. 31.
  • Increasing the Atlantic recreational and commercial minimum size limit from 12 to 16 inches fork length.
  • Increasing the Gulf recreational and commercial minimum size limit from 12 to 14 inches fork length.
  • Setting the minimum importation and sale size limit to 14 inches fork length statewide.

The size limit increase and recreational season will allow Atlantic hogfish more opportunities to spawn before entering the fishery and, along with a bag limit change, will help rebuild the Keys/east Florida hogfish population to sustainable levels.

The size limit change for Gulf state waters is also consistent with pending regulations for federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf stock is healthy, but stakeholders requested an increase in the minimum size limit as a conservation measure to give hogfish additional spawning opportunities.

Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Hogfish” for more.  

license free

Free Women’s Saltwater Fishing Clinic coming up in St. Augustine!

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting a Women’s Saltwater Fishing Clinic in St. Augustine on Dec. 3.

The free, day-long clinic is from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Anastasia State Park, 1340-A A1A South, St. Augustine.

Advance registration is required. To register or get more information, email Heather Sneed at Heather.Sneed@MyFWC.com, or call 850-487-0554.

Participants will take home a lifelong hobby and leave with a new appreciation for the marine environment. They will learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills, safety and the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

Lessons include knot tying, cast netting, rod and reel rigging, how to be a responsible marine resource steward, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques and more.

If conditions allow, women will have the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills by fishing from shore. This event is a catch-and-release activity. All participants must have a valid recreational saltwater fishing license unless exempt. Saltwater fishing licenses can be purchased at your local tackle shop or online. Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/License.

Fishing equipment and bait are provided during the clinic but participants are encouraged to bring their own gear.

prescribed-fire

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: Go to: flickr.com/photos/myfwcmedia/albums/72157639560266805

Learn about landowner-led prescribed burn associations at FWC workshops

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Landowner Assistance Program is holding two December workshops in north Florida on how private landowners can work together on conducting prescribed burns on their properties.

Starting a landowner-led “prescribed burn association” is the topic of a Thursday, Dec. 1 workshop in Crawfordville at the Tallahassee Community College’s Wakulla Environmental Institute, 170 Preservation Way and a Tuesday, Dec. 13 workshop in Quincy at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center, 155 Research Road. The free workshops will be from 10 a.m. to noon, with the option to sign in early at 9:30 a.m.

What are the advantages of a prescribed burn association?

“Most importantly, prescribed burn associations build the capacity of private landowners to safely conduct prescribed fires on their land with the assistance of fellow members,” said Arlo Kane, the LAP’s northwest regional coordinator. “They can share equipment, training opportunities and their own experiences with prescribed burning. There’s also the potential to save money.”

Prescribed burn associations can partner with natural resource professionals, such as Landowner Assistance Program staff and university extension faculty, to receive technical assistance and training. They also can host trainings and become nonprofit entities that apply for grants to purchase equipment.

Use of prescribed fire in Florida is beneficial for wildlife and habitats and also helps reduce the risk of wildfires.

The goal of the LAP is to help one or more pilot prescribed burn associations get established in Florida. These associations are already established in the Midwest, where they are achieving positive results.

Pre-register for the workshops by calling Billie Clayton at 850-767-3634. For more information, contact Arlo Kane at Arlo.Kane@MyFWC.com or 850-767-3616.

Watch FWC’s video on using fire on a Florida cattle ranch conserving wildlife: youtu.be/zYGmW-CJmAE. Another video features the efforts of north Florida landowners to restore longleaf pine habitat and conserve wildlife: youtube.com/watch?v=Okiy-ZDVKvE.

For more information on prescribed fire, go to MyFWC.com, click on “Wildlife and Habitats” and then on “Prescribed Fire.”

gulf-gray-triggerfish

Gulf gray triggerfish 2017 recreational season conservation measure approved

The gray triggerfish recreational season will remain closed Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2017, in Gulf state waters in response to an announcement that the 2016 federal gray triggerfish quota was exceeded and that federal waters will be closed through Dec. 31, 2017.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved this change at the Nov. 17 meeting in St. Petersburg. However, the Commission will consider a potential limited gray triggerfish season for fall 2017 at an upcoming meeting in an effort to provide fishing opportunities to Gulf anglers.

“There is a lot of value we can gain by giving our stakeholders the opportunity to talk to us and our staff about what they are seeing on the water,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts. “By revisiting the discussion about a limited season in 2017, we can use both stakeholder input and updated data to make an informed decision.”

Gray triggerfish is overfished. When the federal gray triggerfish quota is exceeded, federal rules require the excess harvest to be deducted from the quota used to set the following year’s season. The state waters closure will help avoid a quota overage in 2017.

To learn more about gray triggerfish, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Triggerfish.”

FWC crowns Lionfish King

November 23, 2016

lionfish-king-a

FWC crowns Lionfish King; celebrates removal of more than 111,000 lionfish

Shortly after announcing the removal of more than 100,000 lionfish from Florida waters, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), at the Nov. 17 meeting in St. Petersburg, presented a custom-made, mounted metal lionfish trophy to the FWC’s first-ever Lionfish King, David Garrett.

 “Thanks to David and the tireless efforts of divers across the state, we are able to celebrate the removal of an amazing 111,000 lionfish so far this year; 37,000 of which were removed via recreational efforts,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “This far exceeds our initial goal of 25,000 lionfish removed between May 2016 and May 2017 and we look forward to seeing what we can do to continue our battle against the invasive lionfish population.”

Garrett, of Volusia County, achieved the honor after removing a total of 3,324 lionfish during the 4.5-month long Lionfish Challenge.

“Every lionfish removed is a benefit to the native fish and ecosystem,” said Garrett, a Professional Association of Diving Instructors scuba instructor and retired Army major who also sells a lot of his catch commercially and runs a nonprofit lionfish removal organization. He will be featured on the cover of the January 2017 Saltwater Regulations Publication and will also receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license for his efforts.

Of the 111,000 lionfish reported removed since May, 16,609 were from the Lionfish Challenge program alone.

The Lionfish Challenge rewarded divers who removed 50 or more lionfish with incentives including a commemorative coin; a T-shirt; an additional spiny lobster per person, per day during the 2016 two-day sport season; and entry into a raffle where they had the chance to win prizes such as Neritic polespears, Zookeeper lionfish containment units, fuel cards, fishing licenses and dive tank refills.

A total of 95 people participated in the program from across Florida and the southeastern United States.

About half of the lionfish submitted to the Lionfish Challenge were also submitted to the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards divers for removing 100 or more lionfish from waters off Escambia through Franklin counties. This program will continue through May 19, 2017, or until all 130 cobia and red grouper tags allotted to this program are awarded. The first 10 persons or teams to remove 500 lionfish also qualify to name an artificial reef.

To learn more about how to participate in these and other programs, or to see who participated in the Lionfish Challenge, visit MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

New Barracuda Size Limit

November 23, 2016

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FWC sets new barracuda size limits for south Florida

At its November meeting in St. Petersburg, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) set new barracuda size limits.

These changes will apply in state and federal waters off Collier, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties only and include:

  • Creating a recreational and commercial slot limit of 15 to 36 inches fork length.
  • Allowing the harvest of one fish larger than 36 inches per person or vessel per day, whichever is less.

“I’m grateful to south Florida stakeholders for bringing this item forward and to staff’s efforts in gathering public input on this important Florida species so that these reasonable management actions could be taken today,” said Commissioner Robert Spottswood.

In recent years, stakeholders in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys who fish and dive have voiced concerns about seeing declines in barracuda numbers.

Barracuda data is limited due to their complex life history and behaviors; however, there has been a declining trend in the number of barracuda observed during underwater surveys conducted in the Keys in recent years, as well as a declining trend in the average size of those barracuda.

A slot limit will contribute to barracuda conservation by eliminating harvest pressure on the youngest, most vulnerable fish while also conserving larger fish, which are responsible for the vast majority of reproduction.

The FWC also addressed concerns for this species in 2015 when they set recreational and commercial bag limits for barracuda in south Florida.

Staff will continue to monitor barracuda through data collected during FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute underwater surveys, and ongoing recreational and commercial catch data collection. Recreational anglers can report their catches using data-reporting programs like the Snook and Gamefish Foundation’s iAngler app and Angler Action website.

For more information on these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

For information on barracuda, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Barracuda.”

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Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://bit.ly/1VyeZPW

FWC approves historic plan to conserve imperiled species

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is moving forward with a groundbreaking attempt to achieve conservation success with dozens of imperiled species throughout the state. At its meeting in St. Petersburg, the FWC approved the Imperiled Species Management Plan, a capstone on five years of work developing the plan, and over a decade of revising the listing process. In the plan, the details of conserving each of Florida’s 57 imperiled species are coupled with the broader approach of restoring habitats and addressing other large-scale issues essential to the long-term survival of multiple fish and wildlife species.

“Our charismatic species get a lot of attention, but the animals covered by this Imperiled Species Management Plan need attention too,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts. “All of these species are very important to long-term resource management here in Florida.”

After adopting a new conservation model in 2010 that requires a management plan for imperiled species, the FWC embarked upon a process of collaboration with stakeholders and the public. Three drafts of the plan were presented for review, generating hundreds of comments on each draft, and leading to changes in the plan. Experts from outside the FWC also participated in Biological Status Reviews that evaluated which fish and wildlife species should be designated as imperiled.

“The Imperiled Species Management Plan addresses a diversity of imperiled species, from the reddish egret to the Florida bog frog, Barbour’s map turtle and bluenose shiner,” said Brad Gruver, who leads the agency’s Species Conservation Planning section. “In the past, we successfully used management plans for individual species like the bald eagle and manatee. With this plan, we take into account what imperiled species have in common, such as the need for us to improve what we know about them and to better coordinate how we manage multiple species.”

While the biologists who developed this 10-year plan are responsible for its implementation, the public is encouraged to step into key roles. Citizen-scientists can volunteer to help survey wildlife and collect data. Private landowners can conserve imperiled species on their property. Schools, businesses, organizations and individuals can become informal educators on imperiled wildlife.

“We have been involved in the effort to revise Florida’s imperiled species listing process and management system since the very beginning,” said Elizabeth Fleming, Senior Florida Representative, Defenders of Wildlife. “We are extremely pleased to see the adoption of a comprehensive imperiled species management plan and associated rules. Now the important work of implementing these important conservation measures can begin.”

Important things to know about the Imperiled Species Management Plan:

  • It includes one-page summaries for each species, including a map of its range in Florida and online links to Species Action Plans. The 49 Species Action Plans contain specific conservation goals, objectives and actions for all 57 imperiled species.
  • It also has Integrated Conservation Strategies that benefit multiple species and their habitats, and focus implementation of the plan on areas and issues that yield the greatest conservation benefit for the greatest number of species.
  • It highlights conservation success with 15 species that are being removed from the list of imperiled species but are still being monitored and conserved under the plan.
  • What are the 57 fish and wildlife species in the plan?
    • Eight mammals: Big Cypress fox squirrel, eastern chipmunk*, Everglades mink, Florida mouse*, Homosassa shrew, Sanibel rice rat, Sherman’s fox squirrel and Sherman’s short-tailed shrew.
    • Twenty-one birds: American oystercatcher, black skimmer, brown pelican*, Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane, least tern, limpkin*, little blue heron, Marian’s marsh wren, osprey (Monroe County population), reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, Scott’s seaside sparrow, snowy egret*, snowy plover, southeastern American kestrel, tricolored heron, Wakulla seaside sparrow, white ibis*, white-crowned pigeon and Worthington’s marsh wren.
    • Twelve reptiles: alligator snapping turtle, Barbour’s map turtle, Florida brown snake (Lower Keys population), Florida Keys mole skink, Florida pine snake, Key ringneck snake, peninsula ribbon snake* (Lower Keys population), red rat snake* (Lower Keys population), rim rock crowned snake, short-tailed snake, striped mud turtle* (Lower Keys population) and Suwannee cooter*.
    • Four amphibians: Florida bog frog, Georgia blind salamander; gopher frog* and Pine Barrens treefrog*.
    • Nine fish: blackmouth shiner, bluenose shiner, crystal darter, harlequin darter, Lake Eustis pupfish*, key silverside, mangrove rivulus*, saltmarsh topminnow and southeastern tessellated darter.
    • Three invertebrates: Black Creek crayfish, Florida tree snail* and Santa Fe crayfish
  • As to the listing status of all the plan’s 57 species, 14 were listed as state Threatened prior to the plan and will remain listed as state Threatened; 23 will change listing from Species of Special Concern to state Threatened; five will remain Species of Special Concern; and 15 will be removed from the imperiled species list (* indicates a species coming off the imperiled list but still being conserved).
  • Rule changes associated with implementing the plan are anticipated to take effect in December 2016.

Collier County manatee zones

November 23, 2016

Florida-manatee-Trichechus-manatus-latirostrus-Crystal-River-Florida-USA

For immediate release: Nov. 17, 2016

Contact: Diane Hirth, 850-410-5291; Carli Segelson, 772-215-9459

Photos available on the FWC’s Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwcmedia/sets/72157628704598841/with/6899578280/

Suggested Tweet: Draft changes to Collier County #manatee zones approved by @MyFWC: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/1732a78 #Florida

FWC gives preliminary approval to changes in Collier County manatee zones

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its November Commission meeting gave staff approval to publish proposed revisions to the Collier County manatee protection zones.

 Final approval of the Collier County manatee zone changes will go before the Commission in 2017. Before then, a public meeting on the manatee zone amendments will be held in Collier County.

 “The proposed changes allow for some relaxation in boating speed limits while continuing to protect waterways for manatee use,” said Commission Vice Chairman Liesa Priddy.

 The Commission directed staff to continue work with affected stakeholders to ensure final conservation measures appropriately balance public concerns with conservation needs of manatees.

 The FWC’s recommendations for changes to Collier County’s manatee zones are based on recent data collected from manatee surveys, deaths and habitat use, as well as boat use data in area waters. The changes will affect less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways.

 “We updated the older manatee zones based on improved data and lessons learned from 20 years of manatee management experience,” said Carol Knox, section leader of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section.

 The majority of the proposed changes will result in the removal or reduction of speed zones in regulated waterways, while only a few new regulations will affect smaller areas of waterways. For example, a Slow Speed zone is proposed for Moorings Bay, which was formerly regulated as an Idle Speed zone.

 Collier County was one of the 13 counties identified by the Governor and Cabinet in 1989 as key counties that needed to implement actions to help protect manatees. The statewide manatee management plan approved in 2007 also directs FWC staff to periodically review existing manatee protection zones to see if changes are needed.

 Over the past year, the FWC worked with Collier County, the city of Naples, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to determine whether updates were needed to manatee zones last amended in 1997. The public opportunities for input in 2016 included workshops on March 7 and July 14 and a Local Rule Review Committee that met seven times and made recommendations to the FWC.

 Information on the existing Collier County manatee zones is available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can click on Data and Maps and then on Collier County for zone descriptions or maps. The zones help reduce the risk of injuries to manatees from boats by requiring slower boat speeds in areas regularly used by manatees.

 For more information on Collier County manatee protection zones, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee and click on Rulemaking or Protection Zones.

 Floridians can help conserve Florida manatees by purchasing a “Save the Manatee” license plate at BuyaPlate.com.