17-Foot Python Caught In The Everglades

By Amir Khan on August 15, 2012 11:18 AM EDT

Python
Researchers at the University of Florida are examining the largest Burmese python ever found in the Everglades -- a 17-foot-7-inch monster that they say is indicative of a larger problem in the area. (Photo: University of Florida)

Researchers at the University of Florida are examining the largest Burmese python ever found in the Everglades -- a 17-foot-7-inch monster that they say is indicative of a larger problem in the area. While examining the 164-pound snake, researchers discovered 87 eggs inside, which shows that these animals are reproducing at an alarming rate.

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

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Burmese pythons are not native to the Everglades. They were first spotted in the 1980s and were established as an invasive species in 2000. It is not known how they originated in the area, but some believe that pet owners abandoned snakes once they reach an unmanageable size. Another theory is that a holding warehouse filled with imported Burmese pythons was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, releasing the snakes into the area en masse in 1992.

"They were here 25 years ago, but in very low numbers and it was difficult to find one because of their cryptic behavior," Krysko said. "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."

Burmese pythons are wreaking havoc on the Everglades. Since 2000, the number raccoons and possums spotted in the Everglades has dropped more than 98 percent, bobcat sightings are down 87 percent, and rabbits and foxes have not been seen in the area for years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"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. It also highlights the actual problem, which is invasive species."

Finding 87 eggs in a single specimen is a new record, Skip Snow, a park wildlife biologist, said in a statement. He said it shows just how invasive these animals can be.

"I think one of the important facts about this animal is its reproductive capability," he said. "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."

The 17-foot python will be on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History for the next five years.

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