Florida conservationists capture 215-pound python, heaviest found in state


It’s massive, invasive, and covered in scales: A record-breaking 215-pound, 18-foot-long Burmese python has been captured in Florida.

The python is the heaviest ever caught in the state, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced Wednesday.

The huge reptile was captured by the reserve as part of its invasive Burmese python research program.

Biologists found the female by tracking a male “scout snake” named Dionysus with a radio transmitter. Males are attracted to larger females, according to the reserve. Thus, by following a breeding male like Dionysus, they can find and remove large breeding females and their eggs.

Ian Bartoszek, project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, biologist Ian Easterling and intern Kyle Findley caught and euthanized the huge female python before bringing her back to their field truck last December.

Bartoszek says they didn’t realize how big the snake was until they weighed it in the lab. There was “collective disbelief” when they realized she weighed 215 pounds, breaking the previous record of 185 pounds for a Burmese python captured in Florida.

But it wasn’t until several months later, on April 28, that biologists had the chance to perform an autopsy on the snake. They discovered that she had broken another record: she had the most eggs ever found, with 122 eggs developing in her abdomen.

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, where they are considered vulnerable to extinction due to overhunting.

But renegade snakes from the pet trade, which have escaped or been released into the wild, have established a population in the Florida Everglades since the 1980s. As an invasive species, pythons threaten native wildlife from Florida, Bartoszek told CNN. Florida state authorities have taken steps to minimize the population, such as holding an annual “Python Challenge” to see who can remove and kill the most pythons.

There are “no other Everglades in the world,” Bartoszek said. “It’s a unique bioregion, it’s a gem” – which is threatened by invasive pythons.

The autopsy revealed that the 215-pound female python had remnants of a white-tailed deer’s hooves in her stomach, an indicator of how pythons are affecting native Florida wildlife. White-tailed deer are an important food source for Florida’s native panthers, which are endangered.

The python “is a generalist predator,” Bartoszek said. “It doesn’t discriminate.”

Bartoszek says that while “eradication seems out of the question” at the moment, his three-person team is working to reduce and control the Burmese python population by removing breeding females. Over the past 11 years, they’ve removed more than 1,000 pythons weighing a total of 26,000 pounds from a small portion of the Everglades totaling about 100 square miles.

Dionysus, the scout snake that led scientists to the record female, is the “MVP of the season – the most beloved python,” Bartoszek said. He directed the team to four additional female Burmese pythons who were euthanized and removed.

“We’re not here for the awards,” he said. “We are here to raise awareness of this issue.”

He added that scientists have “tremendous respect for this animal. It is a rather remarkable species.

“We are on the scientific side, and in a way for the conservation of our native fauna,” Bartoszek said.


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