Biologists from The Nature Conservancy captured the The largest Burmese python ever found in the Florida Everglades: A nearly 18-foot-long, 215-pound female loaded with 122 eggs.
the record invasive snake it was deep in the brush on Picayune Strand in Collier County, where a radio-equipped male “scout” snake named Dion led investigators to it.
Although scientists prefer not to guess, wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek says there’s a good chance the massive matriarch was one of the original pet snakes released into the wild decades ago.
In recent years, pythons have gone off like a bomb in the Everglades, devastating populations of native mammals, including rabbits, opossums and white-tailed deer, creatures that should feed endangered Florida panthers rather than wild animals. introduced Asian reptiles.
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The pythons have adapted so successfully to their new niche, says Bartoszek, project manager for environmental sciences at The Nature Conservancy, that “we may have more Burmese pythons in South Florida than in Southeast Asia,” where numbers they are declining as habitat disappears.
Removing them will help bring the entire system back to health, says Rob Moher, executive director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We’re spending $16 billion to restore the Everglades — it’s one of the most ambitious restoration projects in the history of the world and it’s right around the corner here (and) you have this,” he says, pointing to the giant spread out in a laboratory. table for a group of journalists, “in the middle of the Western Everglades,” Moher said.
“So is there a future where the western Everglades is silent? Imagine going outside and there is no wildlife, no birds because this apex predator is just gobbling up whatever is out there.”
The reporters gathered in the lab may not have realized something: The snake on the table had been dead for more than six months. Although she was bagged last December, National Geographic was writing an exclusive story about the program that wasn’t released until Tuesday, so scientists “weren’t allowed to share anything until it was released,” Conservancy spokeswoman Katy Hennig said.
The python was euthanized shortly after its capture, although Hennig would not say how, only that the technique was humane and approved by a veterinarian.
His corpse will be used for science, with tissue samples being sent to various institutions: “The sky is the limit for what we can do with genetics,” Bartoszek said, and his skeleton will likely be used as a teaching tool.
But her highly sought-after skin? Although python skin is appreciated by fashion designers, hers won’t end up as court shoes or crossbody bags, Bartoszek said. “We don’t really go there, because this animal is vulnerable in its native range and it’s a slippery slope, especially (with) conservation organizations if you start putting a value on fur, so I don’t really want to talk about it. much more,” he said, “but we get as much science out of them as possible.”
Something this size had to eat a lot of other animals to get to be like this, says Bartoszek. “These are big game hunters… The last meal this animal had was a white-tailed deer, this is panther food.”
Over the past 10 years, The Nature Conservancy team has removed 26,000 pounds of pythons — about 1,000 snakes — from 100 square miles. “But how many more are there?” Bartoszek asks. “Is that 10%? Is that one percent? We don’t know (but) we’re actively pulling them out and working with research partners to see if we can better get at that metric and move the science forward.”
An innovative technique that the team has developed: dual-agent male pitons. Equipped with radio trackers, these bachelors go looking for women, and when they find one, the scientists swoop in.
This critter did not give up without a fight. Biologist Ian Easterling recalls trying to hold on to her brick-sized head as she squirmed, hitting him in the eye with her tail – “It felt like a fist” – while molding him with a foul-smelling defensive musk. Once subdued and weighed in, the team realized they had a new champion. The previous record holder was 185 pounds.
Yet despite all the havoc Burmese pythons wreak on the ecosystem, Bartoszek respects them. “It is a beautiful animal; They are very good at what they do.”
And he fears these snakes may not be the last invasive challenge facing the glades.
“We have a vibrant pet trade (and) many ports of entry (and) tropical and subtropical weather…a perfect storm,” says Bartoszek. “The question is now: What next?”
This article originally appeared on the Fort Myers News-Press: 18-foot Burmese python breaks record caught in Florida Everglades