Record-breaking python highlights invasive species fears

Posted by Kate Taylor

Florida has long had the world's worst problem with invasive species - and a new find marks one of the most worrying examples yet.

At 17 feet and seven inches, a Burmese python dissected this week is the largest ever found in the state, and also contained a record-breaking 87 eggs.

The previous record for a Burmese python captured in the wild was 16.8 feet long and 85 eggs.

Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus examined the internal anatomy of the 164.5-pound snake, which was found in the Everglades National Park.

"This thing is monstrous, it's about a foot wide," says Florida Museum herpetology collection manager Kenneth Krysko. "It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild, there's nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble."

Krysko says the snake was in excellent health. Its stomach contained feathers, although Burmese pythons are known to prey on deer, bobcats, alligators and other large animals as well as birds.

"A 17.5-foot snake could eat anything it wants," Krysko says. "By learning what this animal has been eating and its reproductive status, it will hopefully give us insight into how to potentially manage other wild Burmese pythons in the future. It also highlights the actual problem, which is invasive species."

First found in the Everglades in 1979, Burmese pythons are believed to have appeared thanks to careless pet owners. With no known natural predator, there may be hundreds of thousands in the area.

"They were here 25 years ago, but in very low numbers and it was difficult to find one because of their cryptic behavior," says Krysko. "Now, you can go out to the Everglades nearly any day of the week and find a Burmese python. We've found 14 in a single day."

Skip Snow, a park wildlife biologist, says research into the snake's biology is important for understanding how to curtail the future spread of invasive species.

"I think one of the important facts about this animal is its reproductive capability," he says. "There are not many records of how many eggs a large female snake carries in the wild. This shows they're a really reproductive animal, which aids in their invasiveness."