Largest Snake ever Recorded in Florida Captured – With 87 Eggs

Burmese python by Kristen Grace, Florida Museum of Natural History
Burmese python by Kristen Grace, Florida Museum of Natural History

(August 21, 2012) Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey in Florida have captured a 17-foot-7-inch-long, 164.5-pound Burmese python in Everglades National Park, a record for the state. Scientists found out later that the snake also contained a state record, 87 eggs.

The animal was brought to the Florida Museum of Natural History for examination as part of a long-term project with the U.S. Department of the Interior to research methods for managing the state's invasive Burmese python problem. Burmese pythons are known to prey on native birds, posing an additional and growing threat to some populations already in trouble.  They have also been recorded preying on deer, bobcats, alligators, and other large animals.

Between 2003 and 2008, scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, South Florida Natural Resources Center and the University of Florida examined the snake's predation of the area's birds.

The scientists collected 343 Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park. Eighty-five of these snakes had bird remains in their intestinal tracts. From these remains the team identified 25 species of birds by comparing feathers and bone fragments with specimens in the Smithsonian's collection. The results reflected a wide variety of species, from the 5-inch-long House Wren to the 4-foot-long Great Blue Heron. Four of the species identified (Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis and Limpkin) are listed as “species of special concern” by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The team also identified the remains of a Wood Stork, which is a federally endangered species.

“This new record snake demonstrates dramatically how well these animals have adapted to the Everglades and the danger they pose to birds and other native wildlife,” said George Wallace, Vice-President of American Bird Conservancy.

Florida has the world's worst invasive reptile and amphibian problem.  A 20-year study published in September 2011 in the journal Zootaxa showed 137 non-native species were introduced to Florida between 1863 and 2010. The Burmese python was one of 56 non-native species determined to be reproducing and established in the state.

Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese python is one of the deadliest and most competitive predators in South Florida. This and other exotic snakes found in the region are the result of pet owners accidentally or intentionally releasing them into the wild. The first python was found in the Everglades in 1979, and with no known natural predators and vast areas of available habitat that facilitates their spread and makes eradication extremely difficult, the population has grown dramatically. The Burmese python was determined to be an established species in 2000, and today, population estimates today range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands.

A USGS study published in January 2012 revealed drastic declines in the number of mid-sized mammals in the Everglades that may be associated with the rise in the invasive snake population. The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits, and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest.

Everglades National Park and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are partnering with other agencies to address the increasing snake populations. State law now prohibit people from owning Burmese pythons as pets, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made it illegal to transport Burmese pythons and three other species of snake (the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern Africanpythons) across state lines without a federal permit. Florida residents also may obtain permits to hunt pythons in certain wildlife management areas during established seasons.

Previous records for Burmese pythons captured in the wild were 16.8 feet long and 85 eggs. Following scientific investigation, the new record snake will be mounted for exhibition at the Florida Museum of Natural History for about five years, and then returned for exhibition at Everglades National Park.

Citizens who find a python in the wild may dial 1-800-IVE-GOT1 to receive removal assistance by trained handlers.