A record-breaking Burmese python measuring 17ft in length was discovered in Florida.
Weighing 215 pounds, it is believed to be the largest ever found in the sunny US state – which is where the species was first introduced in the 1970s, likely from the exotic pet trade.
Biologists from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida captured the top predator, which normally reaches an average size of 8ft to 10ft, and took it to its lab in the US city of Naples to be photographed.
The team used radio transmitters transplanted in male ‘scout’ snakes to study the python movements, breeding behaviours and habitat use.
‘How do you find the needle in the haystack?’ said Ian Bartoszek, wildlife biologist and environmental science project manager for the conservancy’s programme.
‘You could use a magnet, and in a similar way our male scout snakes are attracted to the biggest females around.’
The team used a scout snake named Dionysus – or Dion for short – in an area of the western Everglades.
Ian added: ‘We knew he was there for a reason, and the team found him with the largest female we have seen to date.’
Biologist Ian Easterling and intern Kyle Findley helped capture the female snake and haul it through the woods to the field truck.
A necropsy found hoof cores in its digest system, meaning that an adult white-tailed deer was its last meal.
The snake was also carrying a ‘record number’ of 122 eggs, meaning she was a reproductively active female.
‘The reproductive potential of these animals is very, very high, and that’s an understatement,’ ecologist Kristen Hart said.
‘And these massive pythons pass on their good genes to many offspring, perpetuating the population’s growth.’
documented the discovery in December, highlighting the impact of the invasive pythons on native wildlife.
Ian said removal of female pythons plays a critical role in disrupting the breeding cycle.
‘This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida,’ he said.
Since the group’s python programme began in 2013, staff have removed more than 1,000 pythons from approximately 100 square miles in south-west Florida.