In October of 1979, while on a first date, retired Florida park ranger Jam Massey found an 11-foot, 9-inch road-killed snake along the Tam
In October of 1979, while on a first date, retired Florida park ranger Jam Massey found an 11-foot, 9-inch road-killed snake along the Tamiami Trail in Everglades National Park. It was the first Burmese python ever removed from the area. Now, the invasive snakes slither in the tens of thousands all across South Florida.
Burmese pythons are one of the largest snakes in the world. Across their native range in southeast Asia, the nonvenomous constrictors can grow longer than 20 feet and weigh as much as 200 pounds. The heaviest tend to be females, but their weight can vary greatly depending on how many eggs they carry, how recently they’ve eaten, and the size of their last meal. A python’s ability to unhinge its flexible jaws allows it to swallow very large prey—including, in rare but documented instances, full-grown human beings.
In Florida, where the invasive species has been creating havoc in the Everglades ecosystem for decades, pythons are the target of vigorous, sustained attempts to control their numbers by capturing and killing them. Professional python hunters, scientific researchers, and amateur snake wranglers have taken down some incredibly monstrous snakes over the years. Here are 10 of the very biggest.
1. Longest Florida Python Ever
The longest python ever captured in Florida—so far—is an 18-foot, 9-inch snake nabbed on October 2, 2020, by professional python hunters Kevin Pavlidis and Ryan Ausburn. Working for a python-elimination program run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and the South Florida Water Management District, the pair battled the 104-pound female in a canal about 35 miles west of Miami. In an Instagram post, Pavlidis—who has caught hundreds of pythons and uses the social media handle snakeaholic—called it “a once-in-a-lifetime” catch. “I have never seen a snake anywhere this size, and my hands were shaking as I approached her,” Pavlidis wrote. “Every python we catch can be potentially dangerous, but one this size? Lethal.” (F&S profiled Pavlidis and Ausburn in the feature story “Contract Killers,” which appeared in last year’s Danger Issue.)
2. Man Vs. Snake
The 18-foot, 8-inch female python captured in a rural part of Miami-Dade County by Jason Leon in 2013 reigned as Florida’s longest for seven years until Pavlidis and Ausburn topped it in 2020. Leon gave chase after spotting only 3 feet of the snake’s body protruding from roadside cover, then called for help after the python revealed its full length and began wrapping itself around his leg. Ultimately, he was able to kill the massive predator with a knife. University of Florida scientists determined the 128-pound female was not carrying eggs. The FWC, which documented the snake as the state’s longest at the time, noted the previous record-length python had measured 17 feet, 7 inches (see below).
3. Big Cypress Behemoth
The FWC created a Python Action Team in 2017 to enlist private citizens in the state’s python eradication efforts. By 2019, team members—who get paid to survey and capture Burmese pythons on certain south Florida public lands—had removed more than 900 of the invaders, including this 18-foot, 4-inch female that Cynthia Downer and Jonathan Lopez captured Sept. 20 of that year at Big Cypress National Preserve. The 98-pound, 10-ounce python is the largest ever removed by the team and the largest to come out of the 729,000-acre swamp located less than 50 miles from Miami. At the time, it was also the second longest wild python caught anywhere in Florida, just 4 inches shy of Jason Leon’s 2013 catch.
4. Shark Valley Super-Serpent
Researchers from the University of Florida who were searching for python specimens in the Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park in July 2015 captured an 18-foot, 3-inch female on a popular wildlife-watching trail. According to a CBS News article published at the time, National Park Service and US Geological Survey interns who were working on python control got a little on-the-job training as they were allowed to handle the snake before it was euthanized “to help them gain confidence and experience.” The python weighed 133 pounds. A necropsy found that it had not reproduced during the most recent breeding season, and its stomach was empty—otherwise it certainly would have weighed more.
5. Heaviest Florida Python Ever—By Far
A nearly 18-foot-long python captured in December 2021 by researchers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was billed as the largest python ever recorded outside its native habitat when the team went public with their find this June. At a whopping 215 pounds, it’s certainly the heaviest. The scientists used a scout snake—a male python equipped with a tracking device and released during the breeding season—to lead them to the big female. A necropsy discovered 122 developing eggs inside the python. You can read our full story of this beast here.
6. Road Kill
A college student and two companions were snake hunting in Collier County in mid-August when they spotted a Burmese python that stretched the entire width of a two-lane road. Joshua Laquis, a senior at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida, told News 6 Orlando that he and two members of Glades Boys Python Adventures he met on Instagram, Jake Waleri and Stephen Gauta, “all screamed” when they spotted the 17-foot, 10-inch python crossing U.S. 41 in the Everglades. “We all hunted snakes before, but none of us have seen anything this size,” Laquis said. “Something this big was unbelievable to see.” The three men struggled for 10 minutes to gain control of the 104-pound snake, which died in the battle. “It was just a crazy experience,” Waleri told Fox 4.
7. Big Mama
Touted as the largest python ever documented in Florida when it was captured in August 2012, the 17-foot, 7-inch female weighed 164.5 pounds and carried 87 eggs—also a state record at the time. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey collected the snake in the Everglades National Park, and it was eventually taken to the Florida Museum of Natural History for examination as part of a long-term research project with the U.S. Department of the Interior studying ways to deal with the invasive species. The snake’s skeleton is still on display at the museum.
8. Burmese Biter
Also measuring 17 feet, 7 inches, this 135-pound snake was documented by wildlife officials as the longest ever captured in the South Florida Water Management District after Mike “Python Cowboy” Kimmel caught it in July 2020—a record that would be eclipsed three months later by the top entry on this list. A snake hunter and winner of Florida’s Python Challenge who documents his exploits on his popular YouTube channel, Kimmel nabbed the beast on an island in the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area of the Everglades, and was forced to use his snake bag as a tourniquet after the python inflicted a deep bite wound on his arm. Lacking a container big enough to hold such a massive specimen, Kimmel shot the snake before transporting it back to his boat. For the not-so-faint-of-heart, footage of the capture, including the bite and ensuing blood loss, can be seen here.
9. Big Mama, the Prequel
Snake hunter Alex Duffie’s 17-foot, 6-inch python came with a bonus: a clutch of python eggs and hatchlings that were also removed from the wildlife preserve where they were found. Duffie, a python removal contractor for the South Florida Water Management District, was searching for snakes in Big Cypress National Preserve this past July when he discovered a 10-foot python on a nest with 18 hatched and 23 unhatched eggs. After the mother snake, eggs, and hatchlings all were removed, Duffie discovered another nest nearby, but no snake. He returned the next night to find the mother—a 17-footer he was able to subdue with the help of a few other snake hunters, but not before it took him for a ride. “It was crazy,” he told ABC News. “I had my arms wrapped around it and it was dragging me through the swamp. It was awesome.”
10. Bagged Beast
According to her Twitter profile, Amy Siewe is not only a professional python hunter helping eliminate invasive species from South Florida, she’s also “saving the Everglades in style” by using the python skins to make leather products. Her personal best is a 17-foot, 3-inch snake captured in July 2020 that weighed 110 pounds. Siewe says she spotted the python periscoping its head above tall grass. She slipped a bag over its head, then sat on the massive snake as she considered her next move. She was eventually able to flag down a couple of passing python hunters to help her drag the big female out of the brush.