Burmese pythons are not native to the swamps of the Florida Everglades. As transplants, however, they’re worryingly comfortable: they slither through marshy waterways, luxuriate in the balmy temperatures, and fill up on a steady supply of raccoons, opossums, and bobcats. Tens of thousands of these enormous snakes now thrive in the area, descended from former pets and escapees from a breeding facility destroyed by a hurricane in 1992.
The snakes decimate populations of rabbits, foxes, and other handy prey, do battle with native alligators, and breed like wildfire. The problem is big—but perhaps even bigger than experts had realized. Snake hunters this week captured the largest ever found in the area, according to a Guardian report: a pregnant female weighing 140 lbs (63.5 kg), measuring more than 17 ft long. The snake was found to be carrying 73 eggs, according to a Facebook post from her captors. (Though large, the snake is nowhere near the largest python ever recorded, a 25-ft leviathan tipping the scale at 350 lbs.)
To reduce the snake population, environmentalists have lately made use of a new ploy. Instead of killing male snakes, they instead put them to work, outfitting them with radio transmitters. These so-called “Judas snakes” then lead snake hunters directly to breeding females. “The team not only removes the invasive snakes,” Big Cypress Nature Preserve environmentalists wrote in a Facebook post, “but collects data for research, develop new removal tools and learn how the pythons are using the preserve.”