Jason Leon said he has two regrets about slicing the head off the longest Burmese python recorded in Florida:
He wishes he didn’t have to slay the beast, and he wishes his bedroom walls were big enough to mount the snake’s skin.
“I’m actually really mad I had to kill it,” Leon, 23, said Monday. “But at one point it coiled around both of my legs and my waist, and I wasn’t going to take a chance on letting that thing get to my neck.”
Leon and two friends were zipping around Florida City on ATVs on May 11 when one of them spotted a snake poking its head out of some brush near Southwest 373rd Street and 167th Avenue.
Leon, a part-time marine biology student at Florida International University and a former owner of pet snakes, jumped off his ride and grabbed the python behind its head, dragging it into the roadway.
He quickly realized the snake was bigger than any he’d seen or handled: 18 feet, 8 inches long and 128 pounds, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The previous record for Florida’s longest Burmese python was set in August, when a pregnant snake captured in the Everglades stretched to 17 feet, 7 inches and weighed 165 pounds.
Leon said he wrestled with the python for about 10 minutes before reaching for a knife to destroy it. He reported the find to wildlife authorities, who brought the snake to University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center for a necropsy.
The “thin but healthy” snake had not been carrying eggs and had nothing in its digestive system save for a single bird feather, center spokeswoman Carolina Revilla-Vendrame said.
Burmese pythons are a nonnative, invasive species in Florida that for decades have been eating their way through populations of native mammals in the Everglades.
The state organized a highly publicized python-hunting challenge this year to raise awareness of the problem. Smoked and braised python dishes were on the menu this month at a charity dinner featuring invasive species.
Florida prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.
While the Fish and Wildlife Commission lauded Leon for removing the giant python from the streets of South Florida, a spokeswoman noted that, instead of taking matters into his own hands, he could have called the state’s exotic-species hot line: 888-483-4861 or reported it to IveGot1.org.
“With a large snake like that or any wild animal, we urge people to use common sense,” the agency’s Carli Segelson said. “The best thing to do is call our hotline.”
Leon said he’s been enjoying retelling the stories to incredulous friends. And he’s looking forward to Wednesday, when the state is giving him the snake’s skin as a souvenir.
“I was thinking I’d put it up in my bedroom, but I don’t think there’s enough room on the walls to hold all of it,” he said. “I’ll probably roll it up and keep it in a vase in the living room for now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.