Deep within the Florida Everglades, a team from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida recently made a startling discovery that highlights the scale of the region’s python problem. The wildlife biologists encountered the largest Burmese python ever caught in Florida, an eighteen-foot-long (5.5m), 215-pound (98kg) female carrying a record-breaking 122 developing eggs.
Ian Bartoszek, Python project manager with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, speculated that the enormous snake could be one of the founding pythons from the original population, either intentionally released or an escaped pet. The team has been studying pythons for a decade, tracking their movement, breeding behavior, and habitat use. They found this particular python thanks to a radio transmitter implanted in a male scout snake in a remote area of Picayune Strand State Park.
Bartoszek emphasized the damage caused by pythons like this one, which grows based on the native wildlife they consume. He pointed out that the huge snake required a significant amount of native wildlife to reach its size, and that other pythons are likely doing the same. The team attempted to restrain the massive python, but it fought back, throwing its weight around and even taking a swipe at intern Findley with its tail. Although Findley dodged the strike, biologist Easterling wasn’t as fortunate, receiving a slap to the face from the python’s tail. After a twenty-minute struggle, the team successfully captured the snake.
Researchers found 122 developing eggs in the python’s abdomen during a necropsy, breaking the record for the highest number of eggs a female python can potentially produce during a breeding cycle. The snake had also consumed adult white-tailed deer hoof cores, a primary food source for the endangered Florida panther.
The Conservancy announced the discovery after National Geographic published an exclusive article detailing how invasive Burmese pythons have caused rapid reproduction and depletion of native wildlife. Researchers have found dozens of white-tailed deer inside pythons during necropsies, while the University of Florida colleagues have discovered 24 species of mammals, 47 species of birds, and two reptile species in python stomachs.
Bartoszek highlighted the importance of removing female pythons to disrupt their breeding cycle and protect the Everglades ecosystem and native species’ food sources. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis commented on the devastation caused by pythons, noting that the state had spent over $3 million on removing them using detection tools and technology. He emphasized the need to protect the Everglades’ diverse ecosystem.
Bartoszek and his team had previously discovered a 185-pound Burmese python in 2016 and the first 100-pound python in 2014. He joked that they now need a new description for a 200-pound python, as it has reached a “next level” for them. Since the Conservancy established its python program in 2013, they have removed over 1,000 pythons weighing more than 26,000 pounds from approximately 100 square miles in southwestern Florida.