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Record-Breaking 17-Foot-Long Burmese Python Found in Florida

The 140-pound snake is the largest ever captured in the Florida Everglades’ Big Cypress National Preserve

The sizable specimen was carrying 73 developing eggs at the time of her capture (Big Cypress National Preserve via Facebook)
smithsonian.com

A 17-foot, 140-pound Burmese python caught in the Florida Everglades is the largest ever removed from the state’s 729,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve.

Measuring more than the height of a one-story building or a five-meter diving platform, according to the Miami Herald’s Howard Cohen, the massive snake was carrying 73 developing eggs at the time of her capture.

The number of eggs is far higher than average, biologist David Penning, who was not involved in the research, tells Live Science’s Laura Geggel. Typically, female pythons produce between 40 to 50 eggs during a single breeding season—and, as the Missouri Southern State University researcher explains, “That would be a good year.”

As wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida explains to Fox 4's Karl Fortier, researchers relied on radio transmitter-equipped male pythons to lead them to the breeding female.

"In the breeding season, the males only have one thing on their minds—looking for large female pythons," Bartoszek said. "They're pretty much a heat-seeking missile to large females snakes."

Although scientists from Big Cypress euthanized the python and destroyed her eggs per established procedure, The New York Times’ Sandra E. Garcia writes that the sheer size of the snake’s burgeoning brood is cause for concern. Burmese pythons are native to Asia, specifically a swath of land stretching from eastern India through Vietnam and southern China. Over the past several decades, they have spread throughout Florida en masse, turned loose by locals who purchase the imported reptiles as pets without fully grasping the commitment needed to care for them.

“The team not only removes the invasive snakes, but collects data for research, develop[s] new removal tools, and learn[s] how the pythons are using the Preserve,” as a Big Cypress Facebook post notes. “... All of the python work at Big Cypress is focused on controlling this invasive species, which poses significant threats to native wildlife.”

The initial problem with these invasive snakes became worse after Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that made landfall south of Miami on August 23, 1992, when “hundreds” of large and non-venomous snakes escaped from a breeding facility, reports Matt Morrison for CBS News. Reproducing unchecked, these freed snakes—now considered an invasive non-native species—pose a significant threat to the state’s extant animal populations. In 2012, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that sightings of rabbits, white-tailed deer, foxes, raccoons and opossums dropped by more than 90 percent following the pythons’ introduction to and proliferation across the Florida Everglades.

On average, Chandrika Narayan reports for CNN, Everglades pythons grow to a length of between 6 to 10 feet long. Still, the Miami Herald’s Cohen notes, the newly described snake is far from the first enormous beast captured at Big Cypress: In December 2017, a 17-foot, 132-pound python established the record now broken by the slightly weightier specimen.

"To get to that size, it makes you wonder how much they have consumed of our native wildlife," Bartoszek tells Fox 4's Fortier.

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