Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida have announced that the record for the largest Burmese python—17 feet 7 inches—has been broken after a Florida resident caught and killed an 18 foot 8 inch, 128-pound female specimen.
Spotted in the brush of rural Miami-Dade County, the python was captured on May 11 when 23-year old Jason Leon took hold of the three feet he could see and began to tug. Leon, who once owned Burmese pythons before the reptiles became illegal to own in the state in 2010, felt confident he could contain the beast until it began wrapping itself around his leg. He was handed a knife by a companion and decapitated the constrictor.
It was two days before Leon contacted wildlife officials, who then took the corpse off the young man’s hands and, along with the University of Florida Research and Education Center in Fort Lauderdale, confirmed its record setting size. The commission concluded that the snake was non-venomous, although a statement from commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson claimed it “could kill a deer, so a person would be comparable in size to that.”
Kristen Sommers, head of the Exotic Species Coordination department with the commission, issued thanks to Leon in a statement. “The FWC is grateful to him both for safely removing such a large Burmese python and for reporting its capture,” she said.
Burmese pythons are considered an invasive species in Florida, harmful to the ecosystem and thus legitimate targets for extermination. Brought to the region by exotic pet trading and international travel and later released into the wild, the pythons proliferated throughout the region in 2000 and are no longer allowed to be kept as pets in Florida.
Studies have shown that the pythons prey on many of the mammals native to the Everglades. National Geographic reported in 2012 that the number of common Everglade mammals had dropped significantly since the python had been in the wild, possibly even wiping out some species from the area. Indeed, in 2006 a dead python was discovered having exploded after attempting to devour an alligator.
While Florida faces the biggest threat from Burmese pythons, the U.S. Government has not been silent. In January of last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior banned the importation and interstate transport of four snakes—the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African pythons—in an effort to curtail their growing numbers.
“We have taken strong action to battle the spread of the Burmese python and other nonnative species that threaten the Everglades and other areas across the United States,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar at the time.
Florida has numerous tools for reporting invasive species if found, including IveGot1.org, the number 888-IveGot1, and the free smartphone app IVEGOT1.