A team of Florida wildlife biologists captured the largest Burmese python ever discovered in the state, officials announced Thursday.
The gargantuan female serpent, considered an invasive species in Florida, measured nearly 18 feet long and weighed 215 pounds, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The snake was caught last December in the Everglades following a 20 minute wrestling match with biologists, but researchers left the python in a freezer until April.
During a necropsy, the snake was found to have 122 eggs developing in its abdomen — breaking another record for the most eggs female python can produce in a breeding cycle, according to the conservancy.
“Hoof cores” found inside the snake’s stomach indicated that a white tailed deer was the beast’s last meal before it was caught. The deer is a primary source of food for the endangered Florida panther, the organization said.
National Geographic featured the historic capture, which is part of the conservancy’s python removal program that began in 2013.
“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,” said Ian Bartoszek, wildlife biologist and environmental science project manager for the Conservancy. “This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida.”
To date, the organization has removed over 1,000 pythons — over 26,000 pounds of snake — in a 100-square-mile area in southwestern 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,” Bartoszek added.
The wildlife biologists captured the python through a unique research program that uses radio transmitters implanted in male “scout” snakes to lead biologists to breeding grounds where “large, reproductive females” can be removed to stop eggs from hatching in 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,” Bartoszek said.