MIAMI — Researchers examining a record-length Burmese python captured in Everglades National Park have uncovered an equally unsettling record hidden in its carcass.
The 17-foot, 7-inch snake, the largest ever caught in the wild in Florida, also was laden with 87 eggs.
The discovery, announced Monday by the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, is the latest confirmation that the giant exotic constrictors have rebounded since a brutal freeze two years ago that experts estimated may have killed off more than half of the population at the time.
“This thing is monstrous — it’s about a foot wide," said Kenneth Krysko, manager of the museum’s herpetology collection, in a release. “It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild, there’s nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble."
Park biologist Skip Snow said the findings underline the challenge of slowing the spread of a giant snake that feeds on native prey.
“I think one of the important facts about this animal is its reproductive capability," Snow said in the release. “This shows they’re a really reproductive animal, which aids in their invasiveness."
The necropsy at the museum, part of ongoing research into developing techniques to control the snakes, showed the snake to be in excellent health with feathers in its stomach, Krysko said. Researchers have found that snakes will eat just about everything that walks, crawls or flies in the Everglades, from egrets to alligators. A study published early this year linked the boom of pythons in the Everglades to a crash in populations of many bite-sized mammals like raccoons, opossums and marsh rabbits.
“A 17.5-foot snake could eat anything it wants," Krysko said. “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."
Scientists can only guess at the population of Burmese pythons in the vast expanse of the Everglades, estimating the number in the tens of thousands, even after the record freeze in 2010. A month after the cold snap, biologists captured a 16-foot, 8-inch female in a nest with 85 eggs, which was the previous record for Florida.
The big female was first captured on March 6 when a male “Judas snake" led a team to her not far from the park’s research center, said Kristen Hart, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. The “Judas snake" project fits pythons with tiny radio transmitters and GPS devices, then releases them into the wild, with the hope they will lead scientists to primary breeding spots.
Because of its size, the record-breaking female snake also was briefly employed in the project, fitted with a radio transmitter, GPS and accelerometers that measured its precise body movements every four seconds. Before it could lay any eggs, it was recaptured on April 19, after 38 days in the wild, and euthanized, Hart said.
After scientists are done with the record-setting reptile, it will be mounted for display at the museum on the University of Florida campus for about five years and then returned for display at the park.