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Burmese pythons, he said, grow biggest where there's plentiful food—in captivity, they can reach lengths of over 20 feet 6 meters. A Burmese python as big as the new titleholder "should be able to eat nearly any native animal in South Florida"—even Florida panthers, Willson said.

And in fact, a recent study showed that Burmese pythons are preying on a wide range of native species , many of which have declined since pythons took hold in the region. See a picture of a Burmese python that exploded eating an American alligator in the Everglades.

University of Florida Eliminates Computer Science Department, Increases Athletic Budgets. Hmm.

Another reason bigger is better: Large snakes retain heat more easily. That may explain how heftier pythons—though adapted to steamy environments—manage to survive the occasional winter freeze in Florida, he added.

The number of eggs the recently caught female was carrying is another sign that the snake was a healthy animal, and that Florida's "environmental conditions are ideal" for Burmese pythons, said Whit Gibbons , a professor emeritus of ecology and head of outreach for the Savannah River Ecology Lab at the University of Georgia.

To biologist Cheryl Millett, those 87 eggs are "just more evidence that they are pretty much established—they're breeding in the Everglades," she said. That's why Millett's group, a public-private Nature Conservancy partnership called Python Patrol , focuses not on eradicating invasive pythons but on stopping the spread of the snake to sensitive areas, such as bird breeding spots, the Florida Keys, or residential neighborhoods.

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We just want to keep them from moving elsewhere," Millett said. Recent federal and state laws have also attempted to limit the trade and ownership of invasive snakes. But, he said, "I think pythons are going to be part of the native fauna in the next few decades.

Read Caption. Researchers at the University of Florida examine the record-breaking Burmese python's corpse.