Researchers Ian Bartoszek (left), Ian Easterling and intern Kyle Findley (right) transport the record-breaking Burmese female python to their lab in Naples, Florida, to be docked and photographed. Photo by Maggie Steber, National Geographic
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 whopping 97 kilograms (215 pounds), as reported by National Geographic.
Burmese pythons (Python bivit status) have made themselves at home in the balmy swamps of South Florida. As their name suggests, this is an invasive species whose native land is all over the world in Southeast Asia.
The species is believed to have been introduced to Florida in the 1970s, probably through the exotic pet trade. The population then got a boost in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a snake farm and released an unknown number of pythons into the wild.
In recent years, pythons the size of a 5.2 meters (17 feet) monster have been documented in and around the Everglades in Florida, but this discovery would be a record breaker. In 2020, two Florida hunters captured a Burmese python measuring 5.7 meters (18.75 feet), but that individual weighed significantly less at 47.2 kilograms (104 pounds).
In fact, it appears to be the largest ever specimen of a Burmese python ever seen outside its natural range in Southeast Asia.
The new record-breaker was discovered when a team from Conservancy of Southwest Florida tracked down the huge female python using a male tagged with a GPS tracking system.
Conservationists often use this method to track down large females, which are generally highly reproductively active, in an effort to control this invasive species. Once the giant female was found, it was (gently) placed in a bathtub and returned to the lab where it was chemically euthanized under veterinary supervision. When biologists were brought to the specimen, they could hardly believe their eyes.
“When he opened the freezer,” Kristen Hart, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey Wetland and Aquatic Research Center and a member of the conservation team, told National Geographic. “I had an absolutely breathtaking moment.”
Researcher Ian Bartoszek searches dozens of proto-eggs while performing a necropsy on the female Burmese python. The team counted 122 of these ‘follicles’, another record number. Photo by Maggie Steber, National Geographic
Inside the python was just as intriguing to 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 contain the fur, hooves and other remains of an adult white-tailed deer, which was probably the snake’s last meal.
As magnificent as the species may be, they cause real problems for the local wildlife as they prey on a variety of mammals, birds and even alligators, destroying the local food chains and ecosystem. No one has any idea how many Burmese pythons there are in Florida, but state wildlife authorities have killed or removed more than 15,000 pythons since 2000.
This record-breaking discovery shows how important it is to conservationists in Florida to keep this colossal but highly dangerous species under control.
“These pythons have the ability to completely change the ecosystem, and I’d say they probably already have,” Hart said.
For more information about this story, visit: natgeo.com