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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Pythons are coming! Palm Beach County refuge mounts a defense

There’s no question they are coming with ill intent, southern assailants slithering toward the last remnant of the northern Everglades where freshwater veins lead to an unspoiled buffet.

The invasive Burmese python, which infests Everglades National Park, has yet to be seen inside the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boynton Beach.

RELATED: The Prince of Darkness goes on a python hunt. 

 

Duane “Caveman” Clark catches a ten-foot python during the Python Challenge in the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, on February 9, 2016. (Daniel Owen / The Palm Beach Post)

Without fortification, it’s just a matter of time before the voracious eaters enter the 141,000-acre refuge as conquering parasites, but defenses are being mounted, including a unique python trap that refuge caretakers hope will help with early detection and mitigation.

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“Unfortunately, at this moment there are not a lot of control methods — or any effective control methods — for the python,” said Rebekah Gibble, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service senior wildlife biologist at the refuge. “We have people working feverishly to develop other methods of control so we don’t get as bad as Everglades National Park.”

Related: Pythons ran amok in the Everglades until these guys showed up

USDA is testing a live snake trap at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge that utilizes two trip pans for the humane capture of larger, heavier snakes, such as the invasive Burmese python. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post) 

In 2016, a 10-foot-long python was found on a levee near the southeast side of the refuge, and there have been sightings in parking lots adjacent to the refuge, Gibble said. 

The USDA is testing a live snake trap at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge that utilizes two trip pans for the humane capture of larger, heavier snakes, such as the invasive Burmese python. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Water samples taken from the refuge have also tested positive for python DNA, but the water may have flowed into the refuge from other areas.

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

“I think it’s inevitable that this area will get inundated with pythons so we want to do anything we can to control the invasion,” said Andrew Eastwick, a wildlife biologist at the refuge. “But we want to make sure that what we do doesn’t do more harm than good.”

They are hoping this 5-foot-long trap…Read more about how the innovative trap works in the full story on MyPalmBeachPost.com. 

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Python suffering? State responds to PETA concerns about video

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has responded to concerns that state-sanctioned Burmese python hunts are cruel and may be causing undue suffering on the invasive species.

In a letter this month to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, FWC defends the programs that encourage contractors and members of the public to remove the damaging snakes from the Everglades ecosystem.

“Members of the public are encouraged to lethally remove pythons to help reduce the threat of this species to our native ecosystem,” wrote Harold “Bud” Vielhauer in a letter to PETA dated Jan. 5.

Related: The Prince of Darkness goes on a #@$%$ python hunt. 

PETA complained about the hunts last month after articles were written about the record 17-foot snake captured by Jason Leon, a contract hunter for the South Florida Water Management District.

A video taken by water management district officials shows Leon explaining how he caught the python and shot it in the head and later in the neck.

PETA said the only humane way to euthanize a python is with a “penetrating captive-bolt gun or gunshot to the brain.

“Proper positioning for the penetration of the captive-bolt or firearm projectile is critical because of the unique physiological characteristics of reptiles, who require immediate destruction of the brain in order to avoid undue pain and suffering,’” wrote Lori Kettler, PETA deputy general counsel.

PETA requested an investigation into the water management district’s program, and others overseen by the FWC.

Since the district’s python elimination program began in March 2017, 877 snakes have been removed from the Everglades.

Vielhauer explains that the commission is committed to “engaging the public in Everglades conservation through invasive species removal,” and mentions no intent to initiate an investigation.

“The Burmese python is an invasive species that has become established in South Florida, including the Florida Everglades and poses a serious threat to native wildlife,” Vielhauer wrote.

Related: Pythons ran amok in the Everglades until these hired guns showed up. 

Florida invasive species experts have said the water management district’s python hunt has been the most successful in catching the voracious predators and bringing attention to the problem.

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.”

Dusty “Wildman” Crum with previous record python kill of 16-foot-10-inch snake in May. The image of the cat in the back is part of a trail head.

In a statement, the district says all python killings “must be conducted in a humane manner.”

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

“Rules of the Python Elimination Program direct all participating hunters to follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines in the eradication of these snakes,” the statement said. “District staff review all claims/complaints levied against the program’s hunters and will continue to enforce the rules of the program.”

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