The 215-pound Burmese python set a new weight record in Florida (Credit Conservancy of Southwest Florida)

On June 22, 2022, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida revealed they had captured a 215-pound (98-kilo) female Burmese python in Everglades National Park. Measuring 18 feet long (5 meters), it is the heaviest Burmese python ever caught in the state. The previous record-holder was a 185-pound (84-kilo)( specimen captured in Naples, Florida, in 2021.

Further examination of the euthanized snake revealed she was carrying 122 developing eggs — the most ever found in a female python during a breeding cycle. The biologists also found evidence of an adult white-tailed deer inside the snake's stomach. The deer are an important food source for the critically endangered Florida panthers that call the Everglades home.

"The removal of female pythons plays a critical role in disrupting the breeding cycle of these apex predators that are wreaking havoc on the Everglades ecosystem and taking food sources from other native species," said Ian Bartoszek, the Conservancy's environmental science project manager. "This is the wildlife issue of our time for southern Florida."

A f15-foot-long female Burmese python captured in February 2022 (Credit: Conservancy of Southwest Florida)

A male python called Dionysus, or Dion, who is fitted with a radio transmitter, led the biologists to the massive reptile. Male pythons are attracted to the largest females. Hence. when Dion visited the same area in the western Everglades for several weeks, they suspected he was meeting a female. The male "scout" has also led the team to four other female Burmese pythons this year.

Native to Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons were first brought to the United States as exotic pets. The reptiles are believed to have established a stronghold in the Everglades ecosystem sometime after Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992. The Category 5 storm destroyed a nearby breeding facility, releasing many snakes into the swamps.

The reptiles have a tremendous ability to reproduce and Florida officials have long given up trying to eradicate the invasive animals. Instead, they focus on curtailing their spread with various methods, including using python "scouts" like Dion and snake-sniffing dogs. The state also holds an annual "Python Challenge." The two-week-long competition invites both experts and amateurs to hunt down as many snakes as possible in exchange for prize money. In 2021, the competition helped remove 223 Burmese pythons from the Everglades.