A double record-setting Burmese python has been found in the Florida Everglades.
At 17 feet, 7 inches (5.3 meters) in length, it is the largest snake of its kind found in the state and it was carrying a record 87 eggs. Scientists say the finding highlights how dangerously comfortable the invasive species has become in its new home.
"This thing is monstrous, it's about a foot wide," said Kenneth Krysko, of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. "It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild, there's nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble."
The giant female python was discovered in the Everglades National Park and had been stored since May in a freezer at the museum; on Friday, researchers at the museum studied its internal anatomy, making the wild discovery.
Florida is the world capital for invasive reptiles and amphibians, and the Burmese python, native to Southeast Asia, is one of the state's most prominent new residents. The snake was introduced to Florida by the exotic pet trade three decades ago and is now one of the region's deadliest and most competitive predators.
"They were here 25 years ago, but in very low numbers and it was difficult to find one because of their cryptic behavior," Krysko said in a statement from the University of Florida. "Now, you can go out to the Everglades nearly any day of the week and find a Burmese python. We've found 14 in a single day."
Officials worry that the snakes pose a threat to humans, as well as to native, endangered species, which turn up in the pythons' stomachs. This record-breaking, 164.5-pound (75-kg) specimen found in Everglades National Park had feathers in its belly that will be identified by museum ornithologists, the researchers said. Research published this year suggested the pythons are not only eating the Everglades' birds but they're also snatching, and likely swallowing whole birds' eggs.
Population estimates for the Burmese python in Florida range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands, the researchers said. Studying this massive female specimen with dozens of babies on board could help scientists understand how to curb the spread of the python and other invasive animals.
"By learning what this animal has been eating and its reproductive status, it will hopefully give us insight into how to potentially manage other wild Burmese pythons in the future," Krysko said.
Previous state records for Burmese pythons found in the wild were 16.8 feet (5.1 meters) long and 85 eggs, the researchers said.