PHOTOS: Python tries to eat deer bigger than itself

Warning: Images below may be disturbing to some viewers.

Dramatic images of an invasive Burmese python struggling to digest and regurgitate a white-tailed deer in southwest Florida were released this week following the planned publication of a peer-reviewed article proving it is the largest python to prey ratio on record.

Catherine Bergerson, a spokeswoman for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said the photos were taken in 2015, but were withheld from public release until a paper regarding its finding could be written and scientifically reviewed.

The paper has been accepted by Herpetological Review and will be published in an issue this month, she said.

Related: How hired guns are helping save the Everglades from the Burmese python. 

The python caught by the conservancy after eating the white-tailed deer. Photo courtesy the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Ian Bartoszek, a wildlife biologist and science director at the conservancy, said the group doesn’t want to sensationalize the discovery, but share a very “intense” discovery.

“I’ve been posing the question of what if this happens many times over and there are many slow deaths in the Everglades,” Bartoszek said. “This is an invasive apex predator, there’s no doubt about it. Look at what they are doing to our native wildlife.”

The deer being regurgitated by the python. Courtesy Conservancy of Southwest Florida

WATCH: Epic battle between python and alligator caught on video.

Wildlife biologists from the conservancy and land managers from Collier-Seminole State Park discovered the 11-foot female Burmese python in the park with a large bulge.

Collier-Seminole State Park is southwest of Naples.

After catching the snake and moving it to an open area, it began to spit up a young white-tailed deer.

The deer was sent for a necropsy, which found that it was likely alive when the constrictor caught it. It had several fractured vertebrae. In one of the photos, the head is shown as partially digested.

Bartoszek said the snake could have fully digested the deer if not disturbed.

“They can put all their energy into digestion,” he said about pythons. “It doesn’t just digest the entire item. It starts at one end and works its way down.”

Multiple efforts are underway to try and control the invasive Burmese python population in Florida, including a year-old hunt organized by the South Florida Water Management District.

On Thursday, the district announced hunters have removed 900 snakes from the Everglades. The 900th python was taken from district lands in Collier County.

The district’s python elimination program pays a team of trained hunters minimum wage plus bonuses based on snake length.

The deer after it was regurgitated by the python. The head of the deer had been digested. Courtesy the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

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An average of three pythons have been eliminated per day from water management lands since the program hunt began in March 2017.

The python caught by the conservancy in April 2015 weighted 31.5 pounds, while the deer weighed 35 pounds.

Conservancy scientists are capturing pythons and implanting a radio transmitter in them so they can track them to other snakes during mating season.

Twenty adult male pythons are under surveillance. The study, which has been ongoing for five years, has removed 10,000 pounds of python from the Everglades.

Bartoszek said he prefers to use pounds of snake rather than number because it gives a better indication of how many animals it took to make “10,000 pounds of snake.”

“Our research and removal efforts are driven by what the science shows us,” said Conservancy of Southwest Florida President and CEO Rob Moher. “We are learning valuable information that is helping us push back against this invasive species that is significantly and negatively impacting our native wildlife.”

A native to Asia, the Burmese python is considered one of the largest snakes in the world. FWC’s website says it was likely introduced into the Everglades by accident or intentional releases by pet owners. While not venomous, “the giant constrictors have thrived, assuming a top position on the food web.”

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