Giant python reveals Florida's snake problem


A 18-foot Burmese python recently discovered in the US state contained 122 eggs. The introduced constrictor threatens the unstable ecosystem in Everglades National Park.

Male snakes with tracking devices guide the biologists to the reproductive females

Florida has had a major snake problem for years. But how enormous this problem has become was illustrated recently by a record-breaking Burmese python that biologists caught in Everglades National Park.

The 5.5-meter-long female weighed 98 kilograms. “We documented 122 eggs in this snake,” said biologist Ian Bartoszek of the Southwest Florida Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA). “An average clutch has 43 eggs. Imagine that: 122 eggs that mature inside,” Bartoszek said in a press conference.

The swampy marshland of the Everglades with its hot and humid climate offers ideal living conditions for the introduced snake species, which has multiplied and spread explosively in recent years and which, apart from humans, has no natural enemies there.

Ideal living conditions for former pet

Originally, this invasive snake species does not belong in Florida. The Burmese Python (Python bivittatus) is native to various countries in Southeast Asia, from Northeast India to southern China. In the 20th century, the constrictor snake was introduced to the USA as a “pet” and also bred there. The first specimens appeared in the Everglades from the 1970s.

The swampy marshland offers ideal living conditions for the introduced snake species

It is unclear whether the first specimens escaped from breeding facilities or were abandoned by owners when the animals became too large for them. In addition, Hurricane Andrew destroyed a snake farm in 1992, and more than 1,000 animals escaped into the vast swamplands of the Everglades. Biologist Bartoszek suspects that the giant python found now comes from a pet husbandry and was released decades ago.

Conservationists hunt female pythons

For almost ten years, the CISMA conservationists have been hunting female pythons in order to interrupt the breeding cycle. The biologists use male snakes as decoys. They are equipped with a transmitter and guide the conservationists through the dense undergrowth to brood accumulations with large, reproductive females.

The huge Burmese python that has now been discovered was also found using a tracking transmitter, which the male Dion was wearing. The giant python was then put down.

A success for the conservationists, so far the biologists have been able to capture more than 1000 animals, but considering the large number of eggs, this hunt is an extremely uphill battle.

Collecting the large female python is a race against time

What was once thought to be a cute pet now poses a massive threat to native wildlife in the Everglades' fragile ecosystem. “These animals are big game hunters, as you can imagine from their size,” says Bartoszek. “They can take down prey that is quite large.”

The stranglers are not particularly choosy when it comes to the choice of food. The populations of native mammals such as rabbits, possums, raccoons, opossums and white-tailed deer have now been almost wiped out by the python plague.

A python caught in December had just eaten an adult white-tailed deer – the biologists found in the snake's stomach the corresponding deer hooves during the autopsy.

Native predators are also seriously threatened by the pythons. Rabbits, possums and white-tailed deer also feed on the endangered native Florida panther, for which the pythons are now a serious competitor.

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