An 18-foot, 215-pound Burmese python has been caught in Florida, and biologists say it sets a state record for weight for one of the nation’s most troublesome invasive species, according to The Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The non-profit conservancy announced the find Thursday, June 22, and reports the female also carried a record number of eggs: 122 were developing in her abdomen.
Average is 50 to 100 eggs per clutch, according to data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As for size comparisons, Burmese pythons caught in Florida have averaged between 6 and 9 feet, though one around 18 feet is considered the state length record. A weight for that snake was not provided by the state.
Conservancy officials say the massive 215-pound snake was discovered using a program that captures male pythons, fits them with radio transmitters, and tracks their movements. These “scout snakes” then lead researchers to “large reproductive females” and their nests.
“How do you find the needle in the haystack? You could use a magnet, and in a similar way our male scout snakes are attracted to the biggest females around,” conservancy wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek said in a news release.
“This season we tracked a male scout snake named Dionysus, or Dion, to a region of the western Everglades that he frequented for several weeks. We knew he was there for a reason, and the team found him with the largest female we have seen to date.”
The stunning number of eggs found in the female ”sets a new limit for the highest number of eggs a female python can potentially produce,” the conservancy reports.
A necropsy on the female snake also revealed its last meal was an adult white-tailed deer, conservancy officials said. Pythons are known to consume “24 species of mammals, 47 species of birds and 2 reptile species,” according to University of Florida data.
“The removal of female pythons plays a critical role in disrupting the breeding cycle of these apex predators that are wreaking havoc on the Everglades ecosystem and taking food sources from other native species,” Bartoszek said. “This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida.”
The conservancy python program dates to 2013 and is credited with removing 1,000 pythons from 100 square miles of southwest Florida. It’s broader mission is focused on environmental issues in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.
National Park Service officials report the first removal of a python in the Everglades came in 1979. It is believed the snakes were introduced through the exotic pet trade, either when the pets escaped or were freed by owners.
As the environmental threat has grown, Florida has established a program allowing for pythons can be “humanely killed,” FWC says.