By Zoe Sottile, CNN
She’s massive, invasive and covered in scales: A record breaking 215-pound, 18-foot-long Burmese python has been captured in Florida.
The python is the heaviest ever captured in the state, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced on Wednesday.
The huge reptile was captured by the conservancy as part of its invasive Burmese python research program.
Biologists found the female by tracking a male “scout snake” named Dionysus with a radio transmitter. Males are attracted to the largest females, according to the conservancy. So by following a breeding male like Dionysus, they can find and remove large breeding females and their eggs.
Ian Bartoszek, a project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, biologist Ian Easterling and intern Kyle Findley caught and euthanized the huge female python before hauling her back to their field truck last December.
Bartoszek says that they didn’t realize just how large the snake was until they weighed her at the lab. There was “collective disbelief” when they realized she was a whopping 215 pounds, breaking the previous record of 185 pounds for a Burmese python captured in Florida.
But it wasn’t until several months later, on April 28, that biologists had a chance to perform a necropsy on the snake. They discovered she broke another record: she had the largest number of eggs ever found, with 122 developing eggs in her abdomen.
Burmese pythons are indigenous to southeast Asia, where they are considered vulnerable to extinction due to overhunting.
But renegade snakes from the pet trade, who either escaped or were released into the wild, have established a population in the Florida Everglades since the 1980s. As an invasive species, the pythons threaten Florida’s native fauna, Bartoszek tells CNN. Florida state authorities have taken measures to minimize the population, like by hosting an annual “Python Challenge” to see who can remove and kill the most pythons.
There is “no other Everglades in the world,” said Bartoszek. “It’s a unique bioregion, it’s a gem” — which is jeopardized by the invasive pythons.
The necropsy revealed that the 215-pound female python had hoof remnants from a white-tailed deer in her stomach, one indicator of how pythons affect Florida’s native wildlife. White-tailed deer are an important food source for Florida’s native panthers, which are endangered.
The python “is a generalist predator,” said Bartoszek. “It doesn’t discriminate.”
Bartoszek says that while for the moment “eradication seems off the table,” his three-person team is working to reduce and control the Burmese python population by removing breeding females. Over the past 11 years, they’ve removed over 1,000 pythons weighing a total of 26,000 pounds from a small portion of the Everglades totaling around 100 square miles.
Dionysus, the scout snake that led the scientists to the record-breaking female, is the season’s “MVP — most valued python,” said Bartoszek. He led the team to an additional four female Burmese pythons that were euthanized and removed.
“We’re not here for accolades,” he said. “We’re here to raise awareness on this issue.”
He added that the scientists have “tremendous respect for this animal. They’re a pretty remarkable species.”
“We’re on the science side, and in a way for conservation of our native fauna,” Bartoszek said.
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