Burmese pythons are an invasive species in Florida, and they’re a major threat to the region’s fragile ecosystem.
Just ask this poor deer.
In 2015, wildlife researchers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida came across an 11-foot female Burmese python with a hugely distended stomach. The invasive snake was found at Collier Seminole State Park, not far from Naples, Fla.
But at first, the researchers had no idea what kind of massive prey the python had chowed down on. As researchers made some guesses, they captured the snake and moved it out of the wild. The move stressed the animal, though, leading it to regurgitate its prey.
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That gave researchers their answer: It was a native white-tailed deer — and it was even bigger than the 11-foot snake that had devoured the fawn. Researchers watched, shocked, as the snake opened its mouth incredibly wide to let the dead deer back out.
“We were sitting there just trying to process that an animal this size could get its head around what turned out to be a deer,” Ian Easterling, a field technician, told the Naples Daily News Thursday at Conservancy of Southwest Florida event about the animal. “It’s surreal to see that in the field.”
And had it not been for the wildlife biologists’ intervention, the snake would have digested the fawn completely — no regurgitation necessary, researchers said.
“We do believe that it’s the largest python-to-prey ratio yet documented,” Easterling said, noting that the 35-pound fawn clocked in in at 111 percent the weight of the 31.5-pound python.
The snake was later euthanized, researchers said.
The snake’s record-setting dinner, however, lives on. It earned the Florida researchers a place in the March 2018 issue of Herpetological Review, according to the conservancy. Their findings also demonstrate how grave an impact the invasive species can have, researchers said.
“This is one of the largest snakes on the planet,” Easterling said. “It reaches incredible size, nearly 20 feet in length.”
The animal is originally from southeast Asia, but it made its way to Florida and other parts of the world through the pet trade. Now that the gargantuan snake is in Florida, it’s wreaking havoc in its new environment as an apex predator.
“This animal is not supposed to be here,” Easterling said.
The animals’ presence is being felt already: Some studies have found that the invasive pythons could be to blame for a 90 percent decline in the populations of small mammals that call the eastern Everglades home, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. In particular, the pythons are guilty of eating small mammals that native species, like the federally-protected Florida panther, traditionally eat.
Understanding and tracking Burmese pythons in the Everglades and surrounding ecosystem’s is a major goal of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The organization has also removed hundreds of breeding adults from the ecosystem, Easterling said.
And that research “is helping us push back against this invasive species that is significantly and negatively impacting our native wildlife,” Rob Moher, the organization’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on the planet, according to the National Park Service. In fact, they’ve even been caught eating alligators.