Biologists Discover 215-Pound Burmese Python in Florida

The invasive species was the largest python ever found in the state.

Biologists Ian Easterling (left) and Ian Bartoszek (right) with a 14-foot female Burmese python captured in southwestern Florida
Biologists Ian Easterling (left) and Ian Bartoszek (right) with a 14-foot female Burmese python captured in southwestern Florida.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida

It was a huge day for finding snakes in Florida.

Researchers recently discovered a female Burmese python that weighed 215 pounds and was nearly 18 feet long. It was the largest python ever found in Florida.

Wildlife biologists at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida captured the snake in the western Everglades. They tracked her using a “scout” snake, which is a male with a GPS transmitter attached. The trackers help researchers observe how pythons move, as well as their breeding behaviors and the habitats they frequent. Biologists can follow these scouts to large females so they can remove them and their eggs from the wild.

“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,” Ian Bartoszek, wildlife biologist and environmental science project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said in a statement. “This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida.”

During the necropsy, biologists found the python was carrying a record 122 developing eggs. The discovery set a new bar for the most eggs a female python could possibly make during one breeding cycle.

The python also had pieces of hooves belonging to an adult white-tailed deer, suggesting that was the snake’s last dinner. Deer are the main source of food for the Florida panther, which was one of the first animals added to the United States Endangered Species List. There are currently only about 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They live in southern Florida in swamplands including Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

“This invasive species is a direct threat to our native fauna across the Everglades bioregion,” Bartoszek said in a press conference. "The moral of this story is don't underestimate the Burmese python."

Tracking an Invasive Species

The python research and removal program kicked off in 2013 and, so far, has removed more than 1,000 pythons weighing a total of more than 26,000 pounds from about 100 square miles in southwestern Florida.

Pythons are an invasive species in the area and are known for multiplying quickly and preying on native wildlife.

Considered a vulnerable species in its native home in southeast Asia, Burmese pythons were likely introduced into the wild in southern Florida because of the pet trade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The snake has been blamed for the disappearance of all introduced rabbits and foxes in some parts of the Everglades National Park. It is also believed to be responsible for up to 99% declines in encounter rates for several native animal species. An encounter rate is how often a predator comes into contact with its prey.

Needle in a Haystack

Biologists Ian Bartoszek and Ian Easterling with intern Kyle Findley (left) and a 17.7-foot, 215-pound female Burmese python
Biologists Bartoszek and Easterling with intern Kyle Findley (left) and the captured Burmese python.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida

This time around, researchers were led to the female by an amorous male. 

“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,” said Bartoszek. “This season we tracked a male scout snake named Dionysus, or Dion, to a region of the western Everglades that he frequented for several weeks. We knew he was there for a reason, and the team found him with the largest female we have seen to date.”

Researchers guess that this snake is between 15-20 years old.

Until this discovery, the largest female python removed through the program weighed 185 pounds.

When they’ve conducted lab necropsies, biologists have found dozens of incidents of white-tailed deer found inside Burmese pythons. Researchers at the University of Florida have noted 12 mammal species, 47 bird species, and two reptile species from python stomachs.

The snake was humanely euthanized before it was studied.

“We have a lot of respect for these animals," said Bartoszek. "This is a beautiful creature and they’re here from no fault of their own.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Conservancy captures most massive Burmese python in Florida." Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 22 Jun. 2022. Press release.

  2. "Florida Panther." The National Wildlife Federation.

  3. Conservancy of Southwest Florida. "Most massive Burmese python ever caught in Florida — press conference." YouTube, 22 Jun. 2022.

  4. "Burmese Python." IUCN Red List.

  5. "Encounter Rate." ScienceDirect.