A team of US researchers captured the largest Burmese python ever discovered in the state, Florida officials announced on Thursday. Her last meal was an entire white-tailed deer, and she was on her way to a rendezvous with a male snake when the largest python ever found in Florida met her demise.
Weighing in at 215lbs (98kg) and nearly 18ft long (5m), the female Burmese python was caught after researchers used a male “scout” to find her. She wrestled with biologists for 20 minutes before she was “subdued”, they said Wednesday.
A team searching under dense vegetation in the pine Flatwoods of the Everglades late last year came upon a slithering sight, the likes of which no one had found before in those parts: 215 pounds of the snake. It was the largest Burmese python ever found in Florida, breaking a record set by the invasive species in 2016 at 140 pounds, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The reptile had 122 eggs inside her, another record for the state.
“We don’t really consider pythons big until they top 100 pounds, so now I need a new description for a 200-pound python,” said Ian Bartoszek, environmental science project manager for the group, an environmental advocacy organization. “It’s just next level for us.”
In recent years, pythons have gone off like a bomb in the Everglades, devastating populations of native mammals including rabbits, opossum, and white-tailed deer – creatures that should feed the endangered Florida panthers instead of introduced Asian reptiles.
Researchers have been hunting pythons in Florida for over 10 years in an effort to protect native species in the region’s ecosystem. Since being established in 2013, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s python program has removed over 1,000 pythons from around 100 sq miles in southwest Florida.
Florida also runs an annual contest asking the public for help with hunting pythons. The “Python Challenge” will run from 5 to 14 August and is expected to draw around 600 participants from 25 different states. Prizes include $2,500 (£2,050) for most snakes captured, and $1,500 for the longest snake caught. Last year’s winner captured 223 pythons, while the longest snake was 15 feet long. All snakes must be killed humanely.
The search was like a stakeout. The team tracked its target for weeks using a “scout snake,” a male with a tracking device, which was looking to mate. The researchers had to approach at just the right time and angle. An intern with the team, Kyle Findley, dodged a punch from the snake’s body, but Ian Easterling, a biologist, wasn’t so lucky. The 215-pound Burmese python hit him in the face with her balled-up tail.
Once the team members had a solid grip, Mr. Easterling swung the snake over his shoulder and took it to a truck.“She put up a pretty good fight,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday. The conservancy has been following and capturing pythons for nearly 10 years in an effort to protect the native species that live in the Everglades’s ecosystem, Mr. Bartoszek said.
The snake was captured in December, and the team waited until the breeding season was over in March to start measuring and conducting research on the ones they found.
Burmese pythons, originally a species from Southeast Asia, actively threaten the native flora and fauna of the Florida ecosystem, where they have thrived, Mr. Bartoszek said. The snake has become a predator to many other animals, particularly the white-tailed deer found in wooded areas throughout the United States.