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August 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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The largest Burmese python ever found in Florida has been caught in the Everglades, scientists said Tuesday, and it contained 87 eggs -- also thought to be a record.

"This thing is monstrous, it's about a foot wide," Kenneth Krysko, the herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said of the 17-foot-7-inch (5.35-meter) creature.

Scientists at the University of Florida-based museum examined the 164.5-pound (74.5-kilogram) snake on Friday as part of a government research project into managing the pervasive effect of Burmese pythons in Florida.

The giant snakes -- native to southeast Asia and first found in the Everglades in 1979 -- prey on native birds, deer, bobcats, alligators and other large animals.

With no known natural predator, population estimates for the Burmese python in Florida range from the thousands to hundreds of thousands.

They were classed as an established species in 2000 and are a significant concern given their numbers, longevity and prolific ability to breed.

"It means these snakes are surviving a long time in the wild," Krysko said, noting the importance of finding such a large example of the species. "There's nothing stopping them and the native wildlife are in trouble."

A rapid surge in numbers has led to recent state laws prohibiting people from owning Burmese pythons as pets or transporting the snakes across state lines without a federal permit.

Florida also allows residents to hunt pythons in wildlife management areas during established seasons under a licensing system.

"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.

"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."

Krysko said the stomach of the giant python contained bird feathers that researchers will be able to identify.

"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," he said.

Skip Snow, an Everglades National Park wildlife biologist, said analysis of the snake would aid efforts to stop the future spread of invasive species.

"There are not many records of how many eggs a large female snake carries in the wild," Snow said. "This shows they're a really reproductive animal, which aids in their invasiveness."

Following scientific investigation, the snake will be mounted for exhibition at the museum and then returned to be put on display at Everglades National Park

AFP

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