The largest Burmese python ever seen in Florida has been found, measuring over 5 meters (almost 18 feet) from tail to snout and weighing a crushing 97 kilograms (215 pounds), as reported by National Geographic.
Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) have made themselves at home in the balmy swamps of south Florida. However, as their name suggests, this is an invasive species whose native home is across the world in Southeast Asia.
It’s believed the species were introduced to Florida in the 1970s, likely from the exotic pet trade. The population was then boosted in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew wrecked a serpent breeding facility, releasing an unknown number of pythons into the wild.
In recent years, monster-sized pythons tipping 5.2 meters (17 feet) have been documented in and around Florida's Everglades, but this discovery is said to be a record-breaker. Back in 2020, two Florida hunters captured a Burmese python that measured 5.7 meters (18.75 feet), but that individual weighed substantially less at 47.2-kilograms (104-pounds)
In fact, it appears to be the largest ever example of a Burmese python ever seen outside of its natural range in Southeast Asia.
The new record-breaker was discovered when a team of Conservancy of Southwest Florida tracked down the vast female python with the help of a male tagged up to a GPS tracking system.
Conservationists often use this method to track down large females, who tend to be very reproductively active, in a bid to control this invasive species. Once the giant female was located, it was (carefully) put in a tub and taken back to the lab where it was chemically euthanized under veterinary supervision. When biologists were brought to see the specimen, they could hardly believe their eyes.
“When he opened the freezer,” Kristen Hart, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Wetland and Aquatic Research Center and a collaborator with the conservancy team, told National Geographic. “I definitely had a jaw-dropping moment.”
Inside the python was just as intriguing for the scientists. Here, they found a record of 122 egg "follicles," proto-eggs of the python that have the potential to develop into eggs once fertilized. Her guts also contained the fur, hoofs, and other remnants of an adult white-tailed deer, which was likely the snake’s last meal.
As magnificent as the species may be, they cause real problems for local wildlife since they prey upon a variety of mammals, birds, and even alligators, causing havoc to local food chains and the ecosystem. No one has any idea how many Burmese pythons are in Florida, but state wildlife authorities have killed or removed over 15,000 pythons since 2000.
This record-breaking discovery goes to show how important conservationists in Florida feel it is to keep control of this colossal, but very dangerous, species.
“These pythons have the ability to totally alter the ecosystem, and I would say they probably already have,” said Hart.
For more on this story, visit: natgeo.com