Florida native Jason Leon and I have never met, but I’m tossing him some serious props for bravely and gamely living through my absolute worst nightmare: getting squeezed to death by a massive, constricting snake.
On May 11, Leon used what must have been one Rambo-sized knife to kill a 19-foot, 128-pound Burmese python after the snake ensnared him in its vice-like grip.
The dearly departed reptile, a female, is believed to be the longest python ever captured in state history, supplanting the 17-foot-7-inch, 164-pound specimen caught and killed in August 2012.
The Everglades has become a massive breeding ground for the Burmese python, with up to 100,000 of the slithering giants thriving in the peninsula’s warm waters and lush marsh grasses.
Native to Southeast Asia, the first snakes originally came to Florida in the 1980s as part of the exotic pet trade, only to escape or, more likely, be tossed out the backdoor by retirees who suddenly realized that a terrifyingly huge serpent was living in a glass tank in their living room. Yikes! It is also believed that some pythons simply slithered out the front door of Miami-area pet stores after Hurricane Andrew ravaged the city in 1992.
The marauding invaders are opportunistic eaters, using their elastic jaws to consume—swallow whole—the Sunshine state’s small mammals like raccoons, marsh rabbits, and possums.
They’re also crazy-prolific breeders, capable of laying copious amounts of eggs. (Warning: This NSFW photo—which depicts the innards of a mama snake pregnant with 80 eggs—is decidedly not for the squeamish of heart.)
Over the years, the state’s gotten quite creative in its attempts to exterminate the unwanted visitors: They’ve enlisted the help of python-sniffing dogs, held python-hunting contests, and even supported turning the critters into handbags.
For his fearless efforts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personally thanked Leon, saying they were “grateful to him both for safely removing such a large Burmese python and for reporting its capture.”
Enjoy your python-slaying 15 minutes of fame, Jason—you earned it, bro.
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An Angelino by way of Wilkes-Barre, PA, Sal holds a Political Science degree from George Washington University. Though he began his career in sports, he's written about all things environment since 2007. @SalCardoni | Email Sal | TakePart.com