The capture of a 198-pound Burmese python in Big Cypress National Preserve has rattled many Floridians, but experts say the state must brace for bigger pythons spread across a wider area.
There is growing evidence the invasive species of constrictors are moving into Central Florida — and finding an endless buffet of native wildlife on the way.
Hunters reported finding deer hooves in the belly of the 17-foot, 2-inch female caught in Big Cypress, which was spotted slithering across a dirt road on Nov. 3, video shows.
A dissection revealed the massive snake’s girth included 29 pounds of “pure fat,” group member Mike Elfenbein wrote on Facebook.
“We were definitely not prepared for a python this big,” he posted. “Until you’ve got your hands around one like this it’s hard to comprehend.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed the snake was 197.9 pounds, making it the second-heaviest Burmese python on record in the state.
A 215-pound python caught in 2022 remains the heaviest, but there are even bigger pythons waiting to be caught, according to wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
That’s not meant to scare people. It’s just a heads up, he says.
They’re getting bigger
“I’m sure there’s something heavier and longer in the Everglades, but that’s not the point,” Bartoszek told McClatchy News.
“The focus should be on how are they getting this big. To put it in perspective, we had a 10-pound python in the lab last season and it had a 6-pound deer fawn in it. So, if you’re looking at a 198-pound python, the question to consider is what has this animal been up to? It’s clear it has been eating well.”
More python encounters are also occurring farther north in Central Florida’s Kissimmee Basin, experts say.
On Oct. 29, a nearly 12-foot Burmese python was caught in Brevard County, about 100 miles farther north than expected, FWC officials told McClatchy News.
How it got there is unclear, including the possibility it was a released pet, the state says.
“There are now many records (of pythons) north of I-75 (Alligator Alley) including agricultural areas near Lake Okeechobee,” according to a study published Jan. 10 in NeoBiota.
“Isolated individuals may be found well outside these areas, but the exact northern extent of the wild Burmese python population in southern Florida is difficult to determine because of challenges in distinguishing wild pythons from recently escaped or released captive animals as well as their cryptic nature and low detectability.”
In other words, they’re sneaky and tough to find.
“New record-sized pythons may continue to be discovered as efforts to find and remove pythons increase,” the NeoBiota study says.
That’s because they’re preying on a native population that has no defense against an apex predator from southeast Asia, experts say.
Surveys of python stomach contents by research partners at the University of Florida have revealed they are consuming more than 24 species of mammal, 47 species of bird and three reptile species in South Florida, the Conservancy says. This includes adult alligators.
In the case of the 215-pound python caught in 2022, it’s estimated one of the snake’s final meals was an adult white-tailed deer that weighed more than 75 pounds. (Adult white tailed deer hoof cores were also found in its stomach.)
In the case of the 215-pound python caught in 2022, it’s estimated one of the snake’s final meals was an adult white-tailed deer that weighed more than 75 pounds as adult white tailed deer hoof cores were also found in its stomach.
“We often see battle scars on some of the larger pythons and it generally would be from tangling with prey items,” the conservancy reports.
“A female python that weighed 185 pounds (caught in 2015) had a large semi-circular scar and some missing ribs leaning to the possibility that an alligator bit her at some point during her life.”
Average citizens can help
The 198-pound python was caught by conservation-minded citizens, not paid wildlife contractors, and Bartoszek says that’s one example of how the pythons can be confronted.
“They (the hunters) are dedicated sportsmen who were out cruising and they came across it and waited for backup to put it down,” he said.
“The vast majority of the python range is not in urban habitat. However the general public can be on point and report sightings.”
State, federal and academic-backed trapping and tracking programs are underway to stop the spread of the snakes, including the conservancy’s scout snake program that tags and tracks males to locate reproductive females.
Florida also has a no-cost training program known as Python Patrol “that aims to create a network of individuals” who can identify and report the snakes, or capture and “humanely kill” them.
However, more is needed, including continued investment in new technology, Bartoszek says.
“The Burmese python continues to impress us. Each season, we see something new we haven’t seen before,” he said.
“This (198-pound python) is another reminder of what we’re up against: One of the largest snakes on the planet that reaches sizes of over 19 feet and weight of over 200 pounds. Historically this was a southern Florida problem, but clearly they are moving north. It’s also an emerging Central Florida issue.”
Burmese pythons in Florida can be reported to the FWC’s Invasive Species Reporting Hotline at: 888-IVE-GOT1. Reports of other nonnative species can be made online at IveGot1.org or by using the IveGot1 app on your cell phone.