Florida has had a serious snake problem for years. But just how big a problem this has become was recently demonstrated by the appearance of a Burmese python, which broke records in several ways. Biologists captured it in the Everglades National Park.
The female python, 18 feet long, weighed 215 pounds. “We documented 122 eggs inside this snake,” said the biologist Ian Bartoszek, of the Southwest Florida Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA). “An average clutch has 43 eggs. Imagine it: 122 eggs that ripen from the inside,” explained Bartoszek at a press conference.
Monstrous snake: 18-foot, 215-pound python captured in Florida https://t.co/N335E28dSM
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The Everglades swamps, with their hot and humid climate, offer ideal living conditions for snakes, whose numbers and distribution have exploded in recent years, and have no natural enemies apart from humans.
Originally, this invasive snake species is not native to Florida. The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) makes its home in various countries in Southeast Asia, from northeastern India to southern China. In the 20th century, the constrictor snake was introduced to the US as a “pet.” Beginning in the 1970s, the first specimens appeared in the Everglades.
It’s unclear if the earliest specimens escaped from pet litters or were abandoned by their owners when the animals grew too large to keep. Additionally, Hurricane Andrew destroyed a snake farm in Florida in 1992, and more than 1,000 animals escaped into the vast swamps of the Everglades. Biologist Bartoszek suspects that the giant python now found was bred as a pet and released decades ago.
Conservationists hunt female pythons
For nearly ten years, CISMA conservationists have been hunting female pythons to interrupt their reproductive cycle. Biologists use male snakes as decoys. The male specimens are equipped with a transmitter and guide the ecologists through the dense undergrowth to approach females of good size and great reproductive capacity.
Moreover, the recently discovered giant tiger python was found by means of a tracking device carried by a male called “Dion”. Once hunted, the giant python was put down.
So far, the biologists have been able to capture more than 1,000 animals, but given the large number of eggs that each specimen incubates, this hunt is an extremely difficult task.
What was once thought to be a cute pet, now poses a major threat to native wildlife in the fragile Everglades ecosystem. “These snakes are big game hunters, as you would imagine from their size,” says Bartoszek. “They can take down considerably large prey.”
These types of snakes are not particularly picky when it comes to choosing food. The python infestation has nearly wiped out populations of native mammals such as rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and white-tailed deer.
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A python captured in December had just eaten an adult white-tailed deer: biologists found the deer hooves in the snake’s stomach during autopsy.
Native predators are also seriously threatened by pythons. The Florida panther also feeds on rabbits, opossums, and white-tailed deer, making pythons now a serious rival for food.