Researchers with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida have captured the largest Burmese python ever recorded in the state. It took at leas
Researchers with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida have captured the largest Burmese python ever recorded in the state. It took at least three people to carry the massive snake, which weighed a jaw-dropping 215 pounds and measured 17 feet, 7 inches in length.
Ian Bartoszek and Ian Easterling were part of the Conservancy’s python-tracking team that found the snake in December. The giant female easily breaks their previous record for the biggest python ever caught in Florida, which weighed 185 pounds.
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“That was kind of a line in the sand,” Bartoszek told National Geographic. “We wondered if we’d ever cross 200 pounds. It raised the bar.”
The two experienced snake researchers found the female python using what they call a scout snake—a male python fitted with a surgically-implanted transmitter. Using radio telemetry, researchers can track these scouts as they slither through the Everglades in search of large, breeding females.
The scout that led them to the record-sized female in December was a snake named Dion, Bartoszek explained. When Dion’s transmitter showed that he was staying for several weeks, they followed the signal deep into the Everglades. They ended up coming across the biggest snake that they—or any python hunter, for that matter—had ever seen.
Easterling and intern Kyle Findley then wrestled the huge python for about 20 minutes before they could subdue and transport it back to the lab.
After weighing it, the researchers euthanized the invasive python and performed a necropsy. They checked the guts of the snake and found evidence of an already-consumed deer, confirming the shared fear among ecologists that the snakes are disrupting the natural food chain and out-competing native predators like bobcats and panthers.
They also looked at the snake’s follicles in order to gauge its reproductive potential and found 122 developing eggs—which was another new record for the Conservancy. This underscores the importance of their December discovery, as ecologists and bounty hunters have worked together over the past 20 years or more to eliminate as many of the invasive snakes from the state as possible.
A Never-Ending Snake Hunt
Snake wrangling has gotten increasingly popular in recent years, with characters like the “Python Cowboy” making a name for themselves on social media, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holding press conferences to promote the state’s Python Challenge. But the sheer number of pythons in the Sunshine State means that the quest to rid the Everglades of Burmese pythons could be an eternal one.
The problem began with a few careless pet owners in the 1990s, and it has grown out of control in the thirty years since, with current estimates of their statewide population ranking between 30,000 and 300,000. Spread that many camouflaged reptiles over 1.5 million acres of dense wetlands and you can begin to see the scope of Florida’s python problem.
Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are at the very top of Florida’s least-wanted list. They have been linked to nearly 90 percent declines in some native mammal species, according to the United States Geological Survey’s estimations, and once they get longer than six feet or so, the snakes have no natural predators in the wild.
Some research also suggests that the species’ range is expanding northward, which makes containing their spread even more important. One of the most effective ways to do this is to track down large, egg-laden females and kill them before they can lay their eggs—which is exactly what Bartoszek and the team at the Conservancy are focusing on.