- Biologists at The Nature Conservancy in Florida captured a nearly 18-foot-long, 215-pound Burmese python.
- The invasive snake is the largest Burmese python ever found in the state’s Everglades.
- The python was captured in December, but it wasn’t made public until this week, when National Geographic published an exclusive story about the program.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — TNC biologists have captured the largest Burmese python ever found in the Florida Everglades: a nearly 18-foot-long, 215-pound female loaded with 122 eggs.
The record-breaking invasive snake was deep in the thickets of Picayune Strand State Forest in Florida’s Collier County, where a radio-equipped male “scout” snake named Dion led researchers to it.
Though scientists prefer not to guess, wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek says there’s a good chance the massive matriarch was one of the original pet snakes released into the wild decades ago.
In recent years, pythons have gone off like a bomb in the Everglades, devastating populations of native mammals like rabbits, opossums and white-tailed deer — creatures that should feed endangered Florida panthers rather than reptiles. introduced Asians.
The pythons have adapted so successfully to their new niche, says Bartoszek, project manager for environmental sciences at The Nature Conservancy, that “we may have more Burmese pythons in South Florida than in Southeast Asia,” where the number it is declining as habitat disappears.
Invasive pythons creep north into the Everglades:It may mean that the snake population is expanding in Florida
Removing them will help bring the entire system back to health, says Rob Moher, executive director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We are spending $16 billion to restore the Everglades; it’s one of the most ambitious restoration projects in the history of the world and it’s right around the corner here (and) you have this,” he says, gesturing to the giant python spread out on a lab table for a group of reporters, “ in the middle of the western Everglades.
“So is there a future where the western Everglades is silent? Imagine going outside and there is no wildlife, no birds because this apex predator is just gobbling up whatever is out there.”
The snake on the table had been dead for more than six months. Although it was bagged last December, National Geographic was writing an exclusive story about the show that wasn’t published until Tuesday, so scientists were “not allowed to share anything until it was released,” the Conservancy spokeswoman said. Katy Hennig.
The python was euthanized shortly after its capture, although Hennig would not say how, only that the technique was humane and approved by a veterinarian.
His corpse will be used for science, with tissue samples being sent to various institutions: “The sky is the limit for what we can do with genetics,” Bartoszek said, and his skeleton will likely be used as a teaching tool.
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Something this size had to eat a lot of other animals to get to be like this, says Bartoszek. “These are big game hunters… The last meal this animal had was a white-tailed deer, this is panther food.”
Over the past 10 years, The Nature Conservancy team has removed 26,000 pounds of pythons — about 1,000 snakes — from 100 square miles. “But how many more are there?” Bartoszek asks. “Is that 10%? Is that one percent? We don’t know (but) we’re actively taking them out and working with research partners to see if we can better get at that metric and move the science forward.”
An innovative technique that the team has developed: dual-agent male pitons. Equipped with radio trackers, these bachelors go looking for women, and when they find one, the scientists swoop in.
‘Explorer’ Snakes:Biologists are using snakes with transmitters to catch invasive pythons in the Everglades
This critter did not give up without a fight. Biologist Ian Easterling recalls trying to hold on to her brick-sized head as she squirmed, hitting him in the eye with her tail. “She felt like a fist,” Easterling said.
Once subdued and weighed in, the team realized they had a new champion. The previous record holder was 185 pounds.
Yet despite all the havoc Burmese pythons wreak on the ecosystem, Bartoszek respects them. “It is a beautiful animal; They are very good at what they do.”
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And he fears these snakes may not be the last invasive challenge facing the glades.
“We have a vibrant pet trade (and) many ports of entry (and) tropical and subtropical weather…a perfect storm,” says Bartoszek. “The question is now: What next?”