Caught! Record-breaking 18-foot Burmese python shot in the Collier County wilderness

Conservancy biologists have caught the largest Burmese python ever found in the Florida Everglades: a nearly 18-foot-long, 215-pound female laden with 122 eggs.

The record-breaking invasive snake was deep in brush in Picayune Strand, Collier County, where a radio-equipped male ‘scout’ snake named Dion led researchers to her.

Although scientists prefer not to make assumptions, wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek says there’s a good chance the huge matriarch was one of the first pet snakes released into the wild decades ago. .

In recent years, pythons have exploded like a bomb in the Everglades, devastating populations of native mammals, including rabbits, opossums and white-tailed deer – creatures that should be feeding endangered Florida panthers instead of introduced Asian reptiles.

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Pythons have been so successful in adapting to their new niche, says Bartoszek, environmental science project manager for the Conservancy, that “we may have more Burmese pythons in South Florida than in Asia. Southeast”, where the number decreases as the habitat disappears.

Removing them will help the whole system return to health, says Rob Moher, CEO of Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We’re spending $16 billion to restore the Everglades – it’s one of the most ambitious restoration projects in world history and it’s on our doorstep here (and) you’ve got this,” he says. , pointing to the monster sprawled out on a lab table for a group of reporters, “in the middle of the Western Everglades,” Moher said.

“So, is there a future where the Western Everglades are silent? Imagine you go outside and there are no wild animals, no birds because this apex predator is just devouring what’s out there.

Something the reporters gathered in the lab may not have realized: the snake on the table had been dead for over six months. Although it was bagged last December, National Geographic was writing an exclusive story about the program which was only published on Tuesday, so the scientists “were not allowed to share anything until upon its release,” Conservancy spokeswoman Katy Hennig said.

The python was euthanized shortly after capture, though Hennig wouldn’t say how — only that the technique was humane and vet-approved.

His carcass will be used for scientific purposes, with tissue samples sent to various institutions – “The sky is the limit of what we can do with genetics,” Bartoszek said – and his skeleton will likely be used as an educational tool.

But her skin in high demand? Although python skin is prized by fashion designers, hers won’t end up as pairs of pumps or shoulder bags, Bartoszek said. “We’re not really going there, because this animal is vulnerable in its native range and it’s a slippery slope, especially (with) conservation organizations if you start valuing the skin, so I don’t don’t really want to talk about it. a lot more,” he said, “but we get as much science out of it as we can.”

Something that size had to eat a lot of other animals to get that way, Bartoszek says. “They are big game hunters… This animal’s last meal was a white-tailed deer – that’s panther food.”

Over the past 10 years, the Conservancy team has removed 26,000 pounds of pythons — about 1,000 snakes — from 100 square miles. “But how many others are there?” asks Bartoszek. “Is it 10%? Is it one percent? We don’t know (but) we are actively removing them and working with research partners to see if we can better achieve this metric and advance the science.

This Burmese python was captured by a biologist from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The female snake was nearly 18 feet long and weighed 215 pounds and is the largest python snake captured in Florida. He was captured through the Conservancy’s research program, which uses radio transmitters implanted in male “scout” snakes. Scout snakes lead biologists to breeding aggregations and large breeding females, allowing researchers to remove them from the wild.

An innovative technique developed by the team: double-agent male pythons. Equipped with radio trackers, these bachelors go in search of females, and when they find one, scientists rush.

This creature did not give in without a fight. Biologist Ian Easterling recalls trying to hold onto his brick-sized head as it writhed, punching him in the eye with her tail – ‘It felt like a fist’ – while slimming it down with a nauseating defensive musk. Once subdued and weighed in, the team realized they had a new champion. The previous record weighed 185 pounds.

Yet despite all the devastation to the ecosystem caused by Burmese pythons, Bartoszek respects them. “He’s a beautiful animal; they are very good at what they do.

And he fears that these snakes won’t be the latest encroaching challenge the glades have to face.

“We have a vibrant pet trade (and) many ports of entry (and) a tropical and subtropical climate…a perfect storm,” says Bartoszek. “The question now is: what is the next step?”

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Record-breaking 18ft Burmese python captured in Florida Everglades


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