Longest Burmese Python Found in Florida

A Florida man recently found an 18.8-foot-long (5.7-meter-long) Burmese python—the longest ever found in the state. That’s exactly a foot longer than the former record-holder, caught in August 2012, which measured 17.7 feet (5.4 meters).

But what Jason Leon, 23, did next may also break the record for questionable snake behavior—he decided to tussle with it, despite the fact that such constrictors are basically nature’s professional wrestlers.

Jason Leon holds the record-breaking snake (left), which University of Florida scientists measured at 18.8 feet long (right). Photograph by Reuters/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

According to the Miami CBS station, Leon spotted the snake while driving late at night in a rural area of Miami-Dade County.

“Leon stopped his car, grabbed the snake behind its head and started dragging it out of the brush. When the snake began to wrap itself around his leg, he called for assistance from others and then used a knife to kill the snake,” CBS reported.

Leon, who reportedly has experience handling snakes, emerged unscathed.

Florida Invaders

For his act of disentanglement Leon is receiving props from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for removing the lengthy reptile from Florida’s wilderness, where pythons are a serious problem.

Originally from India and East Asia, the pythons are considered an invasive species in Florida. Burmese pythons are one of nine species of constrictor snakes, numbering about a million individuals, that have been imported into the United States over the past three decades, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Many of these animals, which can grow to a length of 20 feet (6 meters), have either escaped or been released into the wild, and are especially fond of the Everglades. (See Everglades pictures.)

Though they’re preyed upon by other species while small, when the snakes reach full size they have no natural predators and can wreak havoc on native ecosystems.

Burmese pythons “can eat anything from small mammals, other reptiles, and birds. It kind of runs the gamut,” said FWC spokesperson Carli Segelson. (Related: Pythons Eating Through Everglades Mammals at ‘Astonishing’ Rate?”)

She added that along with consuming native animals, “they also can outcompete native wildlife for food sources.”

Putting the Squeeze on Pythons

The invading serpents are such a big problem that the FWC has organized a yearly snake-catching marathon called the Python Challenge, which encourages participants to round up the creatures for cash prizes.

This year’s Python Challenge netted 68 snakes in Florida, and Segelson said the program will help determine what the snakes are eating, as well as “how an incentive-based program [can] help cut down on the population.” (“Opinion: Florida’s Great Snake Hunt Is a Cheap Stunt.”)

Which would certainly be good news for Florida’s unique native wildlife. “The Everglades ecosystem is a really important habitat for a variety of animals,” said Segelson. “There’s nothing like it in the rest of the country.” (See a picture of a python that exploded while eating an alligator.)

The FWC is encouraging owners of non-native or exotic pets to turn them over, no questions asked, rather than release them into the environment. The commission is also working with snake experts and licensed hunters to reduce Burmese python populations, especially in South Florida where the snake is most abundant.

Anyone who spots a python is recommended to call the FWC’s toll-free hotline at 888-IVE-GOT-1, through free IveGot1 apps, or www.ivegot1.org—rather than going to the mat with a giant snake.

Wildlife

Stefan Sirucek is a writer and journalist who reports from both sides of the Atlantic. He's written for the Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @sirstefan.