Snake catchers in the Sunshine State have captured an absolute monster of a serpent – a pregnant Burmese python, weighing in at a very impressive 63.5 kilograms (140 pounds).
Announcing their find on Facebook, officials at the National Park Service (NPS) say she is "the largest python ever removed from Big Cypress National Preserve" but have been a little cagey about her precise length. According to the post, she measures more than 5.2 meters (17 feet) from top to tail.
The previous record-holder was a 17.1-foot female, weighing 60 kilograms (132 pounds). Though even larger pythons have been found elsewhere, including a 5.5-meter (18-foot) whopper apprehended in Everglades National Park and a 7-meter (23-foot) giant at Chester Zoo in the UK.
As the name suggests, Burmese pythons are not native to Florida. Ecologists have been struggling to manage and contain the alien species since the 1980s.
The original settlers are thought to be runaway pets acquired via the exotic pet trade. More were released into the wild after Hurricane Andrew barrelled through and wrecked a serpent breeding facility in 1992.
In the years following, the python's impressive camouflage and ability to reproduce at a rapid pace – this particular specimen had 73 developing eggs in her – has seen the serpent population mushroom. There are now thought to be tens of hundreds of Burmese pythons living in and around Florida's swamps.
The successful (if unintentional) colonization of the Burmese python has been catastrophic to the state's native wildlife. One 2012 study found that the Everglades' population of raccoons has fallen 99.3 percent, the opossum population 98.9 percent, and the bobcat population 87.5 percent – just since 1997. Meanwhile, marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes have all but disappeared and other mammals, birds, and reptiles preyed on by the snakes are seeing declines.
While the chances of eliminating the python entirely is, unfortunately, low, officials at the Big Cypress National Preserve and others are doing their best to manage the population that is already there and prevent the range from expanding any further. To do so, the team has recently adopted a technique involving a so-called "Judas" animal.
The idea here is that male pythons are tagged with radio transmitters, which track the snakes as they go in search of breeding females, or follow baby daddies to their mates. Once they have met a mating partner wildlife officials can remove both snakes.
"The team not only removes the invasive snakes, but collects data for research, develop new removal tools, and learn how the pythons are using the Preserve," the officials wrote in the post.
"The data will, over time, reveal the behavior of these snakes in their new territory. But the more urgent need is to capture and kill."
Sadly, due to their large numbers, the most effective way to deal with the problem is to kill an invasive species when it is found and so to this end, various agencies responsible for managing the balance of wildlife in the Everglades orchestrate regular python hunts.
As reported in the The Guardian, the 1,000th kill was reported by a hunter last year.