Deep in the Florida Everglades, invasive beasts lurk just out of sight — and they’re only getting bigger. As first reported this week in National GeographicLast December, python trackers with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples found and euthanized the largest Burmese python ever captured in Florida. The snake, a female, was 17.7 feet long and weighed 215 pounds.
“This was good news and the researchers were very pleased and happy to have found her,” said Douglas Main, senior writer and editor for National Geographic, whose team met with python researchers in Naples. “This one snake probably had hundreds if not thousands of offspring in its 15 to 20 years.”
Pythons are an extremely invasive species native to Southeast Asia that was introduced to the local ecosystem in the 1990s through the exotic pet trade. Pet owners released them into the Everglades (presumably when they grew too big to keep indoors), where they encountered no natural predators. Since then, the snakes have systematically attacked native wildlife, decimating populations of raccoons, possums, swamp rabbits and other mammals.
The 215-pound python found in Naples had eaten on native animals. After the snake was euthanized, researchers dissected it and found hooves in its digestive tract, indicating its most recent meal was an adult white-tailed deer.
“Finding the deer in the python shows that they are competing with native predators like Florida panthers for food, which is very concerning,” Main says. “That’s why it’s important to catch such huge animals.”
The python also contained 122 proto-eggs — that is, eggs that had yet to be fertilized, but had the potential to become 122 additional pythons that could have devastated the Everglades.
What stands out about this particular python find — besides its size — was how it was captured, Main tells us New times.
Python hunters used a fairly new method to find the large and dangerous females: scout snakes. With this method, researchers place a GPS tracker on a male python and track it until he finds a female (or females, if they’re particularly flirtatious). When a male stops moving for a while, it indicates that he may have spoiled himself with a potential mate. That’s when hunters dive in and pack the female.
The capture of a 215-pound female was a good indication that the method was successful. Researchers and trackers had to use creative tactics to find the nondescript pythons, which are nearly impossible to spot.
“These snakes are so well camouflaged that they tried to find it visually, but they couldn’t,” says Main. “It fits in so well that you could be right next to it and never know.”
The previous record python was 18 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 104 pounds. He was captured in 2020 by reptile hunter and iguana cook Ryan Ausburn and friend Kevin “Snakeaholic” Pavlidis.
While Ausburn’s snake was more than a foot longer, the behemoth captured in Naples was more than twice as heavy, making it the largest python ever.
“python on” [Florida’s] west coast is getting significantly thicker for some reason,” Ausburn says New times.
Competitiveness aside, it’s important that python hunters continue to capture and remove huge snakes to prevent further damage to the already weakened Everglades ecosystem. Florida contracts licensed hunters to take down pythons in the wild, and citizens are allowed to kill them without a permit, too.
If you see a python and aren’t willing to pack it yourself, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (483-4681).
For more information about the monster python, visit National Geographic (subscription required)†