No matter how diligently someone keeps their house secure, there's always going to be something that finds its way inside. Animals are more clever than people give them credit for, so when they find some good shelter, they're motivated to find any weak point they can to get in.
And for the creatures who can fit into small spaces, an average home is a treasure trove for spaces that humans not only can't reach but may never notice. And as one story illustrates, this can be a major problem when the uninvited guest is an invasive predator.
A big problem
On July 5, 2019, two campers in Broward County, Florida, were enjoying the natural scenery of the Everglades when they had an unforgettable encounter.
And while the creature they faced had been in the area for a while, it was never supposed to be.
What lies beneath
Meeting a scary wildlife specimen can be harrowing at the best of times, but this was different.
This creature was lurking right under the house they had been staying at.
Not a comforting thought
A home is supposed to feel safe, which makes it hard to get comfortable when that safety is compromised.
After that happens, any mysterious bump or rustle in the night feels like it could be another one.
Calling in the expert
According to NBC6, South Florida Water Management District board member and conservationist "Alligator," Ron Bergeron received a call directly from the two friends.
Shortly after that, he traveled up to their hunting camp via airboat.
Not what it sounds like
Despite his name and the fact that their camp was about four miles south of an area known as "Alligator Alley," the predator they found was not an alligator.
But it was something that Bergeron was just as interested in.
The predator knew where it was
That said, it likely wasn't a coincidence that the beast ended up in a place known for alligators.
Because as CNN reported, after an unrelated video went viral, the predator is known to swallow alligators whole.
A potentially catastrophic pest
Unfortunately, that's not the extent of its appetite, and anything from 7-foot-long gators to bobcats to deer can end up as its lunch.
Unsurprisingly, this means the beast is wreaking havoc on the Everglades ecosystem.
Excited to get rid of it
Due to the creature's destructive potential, Bergeron didn't appear to mind interrupting his Fourth of July weekend to deal with it.
Especially since it wasn't alone under the duo's hunting camp.
So what was it?
What the two hunters had discovered was a Burmese python, a species that has spread throughout southern Florida over the last 20 years.
And according to CBS News, approximately 100,000 of them are roaming the Everglades.
It almost set a record
Once they were able to get the massive snake from under the house, Bergeron's team discovered the python was 16 feet long and weighed 165 pounds.
With that in mind, it's hardly surprising that it took five men to hold it up like this.
For those curious
But while this 16-foot behemoth almost matched the record for the largest python captured in the Everglades, there was one that was just a little bigger.
Just three months before this discovery, a python measuring 17 feet and weighing 140 pounds was caught in the embattled region.
King of the hill
As if the size and extensive diet of the python weren't enough to deal with, the Burmese python has no natural predators in Florida.
That means that, left to their own devices, these pythons could devour everything else in the area.
The biggest problem
Unfortunately, that's not the worst of it, as these pythons are also known to lay dozens of eggs at a time.
Indeed, the record-breaking 17-footer was carrying 73 eggs at the time of its capture.
Just in the nick of time
And that was a concern for the 16-footer Bergeron captured as well, as the campers also found about 50 eggs under the house.
Worse yet, most of them were about to hatch.
Already in progress
And indeed, at least a couple of them were already in the process of hatching by the time Bergeron arrived.
The snake in this one was ready to enter the world by the time it was pulled from the egg.
Not unusual numbers
As Bergeron told NBC6, it's not unusual for a Burmese python to lay between 50 and 80 eggs a year.
With that in mind, it's not hard to see how the Everglades ended up with 100,000 specimens of the invasive species.
An uphill battle
An apex predator that multiplies so quickly is already a nightmare for conservationists.
But the Burmese python makes the grueling work of controlling its populations even harder with how effectively its camouflage lets it blend into the Everglades.
Getting worse all the time
Bergeron told NBC6 that he caught a python at his ranch about a month before this incident.
To him, that's concerning because it's a sign that the pythons are migrating north from their usual haunts in the southern part of the central Everglades.
How did this happen?
Since Burmese pythons aren't native to the area and thrived to such an alarming extent when introduced to it, it's hard not to wonder how they got there in the first place.
And while conservationists don't have a definitive answer, there are two likely possibilities.
According to WION, it's illegal to release non-native species into the wild in Florida.
But while the damage the Burmese python has been doing to the Everglades is an unfortunate demonstration of why that law exists, it's possible that somebody decided to break it anyway.
A genuine mistake?
Another possibility is that some residents in the area have kept Burmese pythons as exotic pets.
As such, it's not impossible that some of those pets escaped their confines and weren't intentionally released.
Although not all of a Burmese python's hatchlings are likely to survive to adulthood, Bergeron said that at least a third of them will.
2019 saw conservationists like him capture their 500th python, and netting the 16-foot menace under the campers' house is an important step in the arduous process of slowing the snake's spread.
What's at stake
On his website, Bergeron said, "The Burmese Python poses a significant threat to the Florida Everglades by disrupting the natural food chain."
He continued, "With good fortune, we were able to find a large female and remove her and an entire nest of up to 50 baby snakes which would have continued killing off our precious habitat."
Initiatives ramp up
As WION reported, about 5,000 pythons were eliminated by August 2020, an indication of how dramatically culling efforts have ramped up.
In Bergeron's words, "Each invasive python eliminated represents hundreds of native Florida wildlife saved."
The public joins in
A relatively new part of the fight to curb Burmese python populations in the Everglades is the annual "Python Challenge."
Beginning in 2020, this event essentially deputizes the public in conservation efforts by having them compete to see who can capture the most and the largest pythons.
An instant hit
According to The Hill, about 600 people from 25 states participated in 2021 and managed to catch 223 pythons in the process.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel also reported that the first prize winner that year caught 41 of them single-handed.
Whoever catches the most pythons wins the grand prize, while the person who catches the longest one wins $1,500.
In 2021, the snake fitting that description was over 15 feet long, while the longest snake caught the following year was a little over 11 feet long.
The grand prize gets grander
The Hill reported that the winner in the 2021 event received $2,500 for his haul, but it seems the pot has been sweetened since then.
Because according to WTSP, Matthew Concepcion won $10,000 by capturing 28 pythons. Other cash prizes ranging from $750 to $2,500 have also since been added for other categories.
No cruelty allowed
Although the purpose of the challenge is to cull as many Burmese pythons in the Everglades as possible, the rules require participants to do so humanely.
They also require anyone interested in signing up to take an online training course before they arrive in the Everglades.
More support arrives
The Python Challenge for 2022 turned out even better than the previous year, as 1,000 people participated from 32 states, Canada, and Latvia.
The expanded roster also caught more snakes than last year, if by a modest margin. That time, 231 pythons were captured, compared to 223 in 2021. But of course, every little bit helps.