18-Foot-Long Monster Python Caught in Florida

A photo of an 18-foot-long python.
A near-record-breaking Burmese python measuring more than 18 feet long was discovered by engineers during a routine inspection of levees. Photograph by South Florida Water Management District, Reuters

What’s longer than a minivan and can swallow a whole deer for dinner? The enormous Burmese python that turned up in the Everglades this week—the second largest found in the fragile Florida wetland environment within the last year.

The snake was 18 feet 2 inches (5.5 meters) long and weighed about 150 pounds (68 kilograms). The biggest one, which was found and killed in May 2013, was about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) heavier and measured 18 feet 8 inches (5.7 meters). (See: “Longest Burmese Python Found in Florida.”)

A group of engineers discovered the giant while inspecting levees in Everglades National Park. The animal was shot and killed, and its body was delivered to the University of Florida for study.

Basking in the Sunshine State

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but in 1992 Hurricane Andrew destroyed a reptile-breeding facility near the Everglades, releasing hundreds of pythons into the wild. In addition, an unknown number that escaped from or were released by exotic-pet owners have exacerbated the problem. (See: “Florida Python Hunt Captures 68 Invasive Snakes.”)

In the southernmost parts of the Sunshine State, where the climate reminds them of home and food is plentiful, these animals do just fine. (Other exotic species, including at least 139 different reptiles and amphibians, are also thriving in Florida.)

Big Eaters

The python population is in the thousands (commonly reported estimates of 100,000 or more are likely inflated), and they have eaten their way well beyond park borders.

The snakes feed on other reptiles, amphibians, and birds, but they’ve also taken a huge bite out of the Everglades’ various mammal populations, from raccoons to bobcats to deer. The state of Florida has given out permits for hunters to shoot the invasive species in an attempt to slow the feeding frenzy.

Slithering North?

In 2012 this snake species, along with three others, was banned from import into the U.S. Meanwhile, the pythons that are already here have expanded their range by moving north within Florida, and some conservationists and lawmakers worry that the animals will soon slither into the rest of the country.

But reptile experts say that Burmese pythons can’t survive in much chillier, drier environments. Cold snaps in Florida in 2010, for example, interfered with thermoregulation (management of body temperature, which snakes do by basking in the sun) and killed many of the tropics-loving reptiles.

Whether a warming climate will someday push the problem beyond Florida’s borders is unknown, but for now, the snakes continue growing to great lengths right where they are.

Follow Jennifer S. Holland on Twitter.

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Degrees in English and Conservation Biology Contributing Writer, National Geographic magazine Regular Contributor, NG News Author of bestselling books Unlikely Friendships (2011) and Unlikely Loves (2013)