A massive python slithering along the tram road at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park may be one for the record books.
Nabbed by University of Florida researchers studying invasive species in the park earlier this month, the female measured 18 feet, three inches and weighed 133 pounds. That's three inches shy of the record-holder — beheaded by a man riding an ATV in Florida City in 2013 — but five pounds heavier than previous snakes captured in the Florida wild.
UF wildlife biologist Brad Metzger and intern Sky Button spotted the snake July 9 after wrapping up an evening survey, said UF Professor Frank Mazzotti.
"They finished their survey and kind of looked at each other and said let's take one more turn around Shark River," he said. "I'm sure they were pretty excited."
First introduced as escaped pets, Burmese pythons have taken over as the top predator in the southern Everglades, driving down populations of small mammals and threatening to permanently change the ecosystem. In their native range, they can grow to 20 feet. Eighteen feet is big, but not unheard of, said Tylan Dean, chief of the park's biological research branch.
"It's a top 1 percent, but it's also within the known size range. So we expect over time to encounter these large animals," he said.
A necropsy showed the snake had not laid any eggs in a year — good news since a typical clutch can number as many as 100. Most adult pythons are typically captured in the summer months along levees and roads in the marshes where they come to sun themselves. But females can also be found in summer months on the move after eggs hatch, Mazzotti said.
Dean speculated the snake could have been lured into the open by the cool evening air. Over the years, researchers who started their work in 2008, have caught between 95 and 100 of the stealthy snakes which have proved efficient at avoiding capture, Mazzotti said. Dean said the park does not track sizes because measurements matter less than the number of snakes recorded. However, state wildlife officials do.