In October 1979, while on a field trip, retired Florida park ranger Jam Massey found an 11-foot, 9-inch road-kill snake along the Tamiami Trail in Everglades National Park. It was the first Burmese python ever removed from the area. Now, the invasive snakes number in the tens of thousands across South Florida.
Burmese pythons are one of the largest snakes in the world. Throughout their native range in Southeast Asia, nonvenomous constrictors can grow more than 20 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds. The heaviest tend to be females, but their weight can vary greatly depending on how many eggs they are carrying, how recently they have eaten and the size of their last meal. A python’s ability to retract its flexible jaws allows it to swallow very large prey—including, in rare but documented cases, full-grown human beings.
In Florida, where invasive species have wreaked havoc on the Everglades ecosystem for decades, pythons are the target of vigorous and sustained efforts to control their numbers by capturing and killing them. Professional python hunters, scientific researchers, and amateur snake wranglers have taken down some pretty monstrous snakes over the years. Here are 10 of the biggest.
1. Florida’s longest python ever
The longest python ever caught in Florida — so far — is an 18-foot, 9-inch snake captured on October 2, 2020, by professional python hunters Kevin Pavlidis and Ryan Ausburn. Working for a python eradication program run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and the South Florida Water Management District, the pair battled the 104-pound female in a canal about 35 miles west of Miami. In a post on Instagram, Pavlidis – who has caught hundreds of pythons and uses the social network “snakeaholic” – called it a “once in a lifetime catch”. “I have never seen a snake anywhere this size and my hands were shaking when I got close to it,” Pavlidis wrote. “Any python we catch is potentially dangerous, but one this size? Deadly.” (F&S profiled Pavlidis and Ausburn in the story “Contract Killers,” which appeared in the Danger Issue last year.)
2. Man vs. Snake
The 18-foot, 8-inch female python captured in rural Miami-Dade County by Jason Leon in 2013 reigned as Florida’s longest for seven years until Pavlidis and Ausburn topped it in 2020. Leon was followed after noticed only 3 meters of the snake’s body sticking out of the cover on the side of the road, then called for help as the python revealed its full length and began to wrap itself around his leg. After all, he was able to kill the massive predator with a knife. University of Florida scientists determined that the 128-pound female was not carrying eggs. The FWC, which documented the snake as the state’s longest at the time, noted that the previous python on record measured 17 feet, 7 inches (see below).
3. The great cypress behemoth
The FWC created a Python Action Team in 2017 to involve private citizens in the state’s python eradication efforts. By 2019, team members — who are paid to observe and capture Burmese pythons on several south Florida public lands — had removed more than 900 invaders, including this 18-foot, 4-inch female that Cynthia Downer and Jonathan Lopez caught in September. 20 of that year at Big Cypress National Reserve. The 98-pound, 10-ounce python is the largest ever taken down by the team and the largest to come out of the 729,000-acre marsh located less than 50 miles from Miami. At the time, it was also the second-longest wild python caught anywhere in Florida, just 4 inches shy of Jason Leon’s catch in 2013.
4. The Super-Snake of Shark Valley
Researchers from the University of Florida searching for python specimens in the Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park in July 2015 captured an 18-foot, 3-inch female on a popular wildlife viewing trail. According to a CBS News article published at the time, National Park Service and US Geological Survey interns working to control the python received a little on-the-job training after being allowed to handle the snake before it was euthanized ” to help them. gain confidence and experience.” The python weighed 133 kg.A necropsy revealed that it had not reproduced during the most recent breeding season and its stomach was empty – otherwise it would certainly have weighed more.
5. Florida’s Heaviest Python Ever – By far
A nearly 18-foot-long python captured in December 2021 by researchers from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was billed as the largest python ever recorded outside its native habitat when the team went public with their find this June. Weighing in at a whopping 215 pounds, it’s certainly the heaviest. The scientists used a scout snake – a male python fitted with a tracking device and released during breeding season – to lead them to the large female. A necropsy revealed 122 developing eggs inside the python. You can read our full history of this beast here.
6. Killing on the road
A college student and two companions were snake hunting in Collier County in mid-August when they spotted a Burmese python sprawled across the width of a two-lane road. Joshua Laquis, a senior at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, told News 6 Orlando that he and two Glades Boys Python Adventures members he met on Instagram, Jake Waleri and Stephen Gauta, “all screamed” when they saw the 17 – foot, 10-inch python crossing US 41 in the Everglades. “We’ve all hunted snakes before, but none of us have seen anything like this,” Laquis said. “Something that big was incredible to see.” The three men fought for 10 minutes to gain control of the 104-kilogram snake, which died in the battle. “It was just a crazy experience,” Waleri told Fox 4.
7. Big Mama
Billed as the largest python ever documented in Florida when captured in August 2012, the 17-foot, 7-inch female weighed 164.5 pounds and carried 87 eggs — also a state record at the time. Researchers from the US Geological Survey collected the snake in Everglades National Park, and it was eventually sent to the Florida Museum of Natural History for examination as part of a long-term research project with the US Department of the Interior, studying ways to dealt with invasive species. The snake skeleton is still on display in the museum.
8. Burmese Biter
Also measuring 17 feet, 7 inches, this 135-pound snake was documented by wildlife officials as the longest ever caught in the South Florida Water Management District after Mike “Python Cowboy” Kimmel caught it in July 2020 – a record that would eclipse three. months later from the main entry on this list. A snake hunter and winner of the Florida Python Challenge who documents his exploits on his popular YouTube channel, Kimmel captured the beast on an island in the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area in the Everglades and forced to use his snake pouch as a fence after the python inflicted a deep bite wound on his arm. Not having a container large enough to hold such a massive specimen, Kimmel shot the snake before transporting it back to his boat. For the not-so-faint state, footage of the capture, including the bite and the ensuing blood loss, can be seen here.
9. Big Mama, The Prequel
Snake hunter Alex Duffie’s 17-foot, 6-inch python came with a bonus: a clutch of python eggs and eggs that were also removed from the wildlife reserve where they were found. Duffie, a python removal contractor for the South Florida Water Management District, was searching for snakes at Big Cypress National Reserve last July when he discovered a 10-foot python in a nest with 18 hatched and 23 unhatched eggs. After the mother snake, eggs and eggs were all removed, Duffie discovered another nest nearby, but no snake. He returned the next night to find the mother—a 17-footer that he was able to subdue with the help of a few other snake hunters, but not before taking her for a ride. “It was crazy,” he told ABC News. “I had his arms wrapped around him and he was dragging me through the swamp. It was wonderful.”
10. Beast in the sack
According to her Twitter profile, Amy Siewe is not only a professional python hunter helping to eliminate invasive species from South Florida, she’s also “saving the Everglades in style” by using python skins to make leather goods. Her personal best is a 17-foot, 3-inch snake caught in July 2020 that weighed 110 pounds. Siewe says she spotted the python peeking its head out into the tall grass. She slid a bag over her head, then sat on the massive snake as she considered her next move. She was finally able to flag down a couple of passing python hunters to help her pull the large female out of the brush.