The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has announced record-breaking developments in its invasive Burmese python research program with the documentation of the largest python found to date in Florida. The female python measured nearly 18 feet in length and weighed in at 215 pounds.
A team of wildlife biologists at the Conservancy recently discovered and captured the python through its nationally recognized research program, which uses radio transmitters implanted in male “scout” snakes to understand python movements, breeding behaviors, and habitat use. Scout snakes can lead biologists to breeding aggregations and large, reproductive females, allowing researchers to remove breeding females and their developing eggs from the wild.
“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,” said Ian Bartoszek, wildlife biologist and environmental science project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “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.” Ian Easterling, a biologist on the team, and Kyle Findley, an intern for the project, helped capture the record-sized female and haul it through the woods to the field truck.
Another record-breaking discovery was the number of eggs carried by the snake. During the necropsy, researchers encountered a record 122 developing eggs within the snake’s abdomen. This finding sets a new limit for the highest number of eggs a female python can potentially produce in a breeding cycle. Furthermore, an assessment of the snake’s digestive contents found hoof cores, determining an adult white-tailed deer – a primary food source of the endangered Florida panther – to be the snake’s last meal.
The discovery, which was recently documented by National Geographic, highlights the continued impact of the invasive species, which is known for rapid reproduction and depletion of surrounding native wildlife.
“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 adds. “This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida.”
The Conservancy’s python program was established in 2013, and to date, has been able to remove over 1,000 pythons weighing more than 26,000 pounds of adult pythons from approximately 100 square miles in southwestern Florida.
“For nearly a decade, our team of biologists has been dedicated to learning more about the Burmese python and working to reduce the long-term effects that this invasive species has on our ecosystem,” said Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “These efforts are significant in fulfilling our mission of protecting Southwest Florida’s unique natural environment and quality of life by reducing the overall impact on our native wildlife populations.”
The team has recorded dozens of observations of white-tailed deer found inside Burmese pythons during necropsies conducted in the lab. Data research colleagues at the University of Florida have documented 24 species of mammals, 47 species of birds, and two reptile species from the stomach of pythons.
The Conservancy’s team of researchers has removed several record-breaking large snakes through its targeted removal technique. Prior to this recent finding, the largest female python removed through the Conservancy’s program weighed 185 pounds and was the heaviest python captured to date in Florida at the time.
Funding for the Conservancy’s python research and removal program is provided through the Naples Zoo Conservation Fund, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, South Florida Water Management District and private philanthropy. The Conservancy collaborates with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Collier Seminole State Park, United States Geological Survey, and Big Cypress National Preserve for radio-telemetry research and removal efforts.