Captured 17-Foot-Long Python Was About to Have 73 Babies
Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.
The team from the Big Cypress national preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.
This particular mom snake was found after researchers tagged a male python with a radio transmitter and followed him in his search for a new mate. This method helps researchers locate and remove invasive snakes, as well as collect data for research, according to the preserve’s Facebook post.
Burmese pythons caught in Florida are often 6-10 feet long, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In their native lands, the snakes commonly reach 18 feet and can exceed 20 feet. FWC officials said that using radio transmitters was part of a larger, collaborative effort to eradicate the non-native species from South Florida.
Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest pythons on Earth. They are capable of reaching 23 feet or more in length and weighing up to 200 pounds with a girth as big as a telephone pole. When young, they will spend much of their time in the trees. However, as they mature and their size and weight make tree climbing unwieldy, they transition to mainly ground-dwelling. They are also excellent swimmers, and can stay submerged for up to 30 minutes before surfacing for air.
Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are an invasive species in Florida. They likely got into the wild not only because of pet owners who decided to release them, but also from hurricanes that aided in their escape from captivity. Given that they’re invasive, why are pythons so successful in the Sunshine State?
Mothers such as this one are part of the answer, Penning said. Now that it’s springtime, mother snakes are laying eggs. These 4- to 5-inch-long (10 to 13 centimeters) oval eggs take up so much space inside the mother, that she has to stop eating because she literally can’t fit anything else inside her body, Penning said. Even her organs get scrunched and pushed out of the way. After developing in the mother for about two to three months, the eggs are laid in a conical pile. Then, the mother stays with her eggs, shivering next to them to keep them warm, Penning said.
Once the eggs hatch, the babies go their separate ways. But, intriguingly, these snakes tend to find niches and prey that fit their body size; small snakes find habitats with small prey, and larger snakes find larger prey, including prey that lives in the water.
On top of that, Burmese pythons are good at hiding and capturing prey, chowing down on everything from a field mouse to a deer. Since these snakes began invading Florida, sightings of rabbits, foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer and opossums in the Everglades have dropped by more than 90 percent, a 2011 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.
However, Burmese pythons are listed as vulnerable in their native range of Southeast Asia, largely because humans have taken to making them into products, such as boots. “It’s become such a problem that their population needs to be monitored, and we need to increase them, except in Florida, where we’re having the opposite problem,” Penning said.
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