An 18-foot Burmese python was captured by three amateur hunters along US-41 in Collier County.
The python caught by Jake Waleri, Joshua Laquis and Stephen Gauta near Monroe Station weighed more than 100 pounds and is believed to be one of the biggest ever caught in Florida. Trying to slither to the other side of the road proved to be that particular python’s fatal mistake.
“I look up and I see something blocking the entire road. It takes me a second, and I just see a head move, and I just start screaming,” Waleri said.
Waleri, Laquis and Gauta went out looking for the massive snakes on Wednesday night. They didn’t expect to find one while driving along US-41.
“We didn’t expect to come across anything this big,” Waleri said.
“We were sweating and fighting this thing for a good five to 10 minutes,” Gauta said.
All stretched out, the python measured 17 feet and 10 inches long and weighed 104 pounds.
“When I saw this thing, and I saw its tail and its head were almost touching the opposite white lines of the road, I was shocked. I was like, ‘This could be a record breaker.’ It’s not, but it’s petty close,” Waleri said.
That title actually belongs to a python caught by experts with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in June. It was 215 pounds and 18 feet long.
“The most crazy part to me: This, well, we think this snake was spotted three nights before by another guy. So, for the entire night, what we talked about was, ‘Imagine we catch that one snake,'” Laquis said.
“To go out there and remove some of these invasive species to make sure your native wildlife has a chance, it feels really good,” Gauta said.
Waleri and Gauta say they are veteran hunters who are home from college for the summer.
“These pythons don’t have a lot of natural predators, so it’s up to us to be those natural predators, take them out of the ‘glades before they get this big and can consume everything. This thing must have been really destructive over the last two decades,” said Waleri.
The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that there are at least 1 million pythons in the Everglades.
Friday marks the start of the 2022 Florida Python Challenge. This might be the only event in the nation to encourage members of the general public to take an online class, then go deep into the Everglades to compete for thousands of dollars in prizes.
Last year, more than 600 people from 25 states registered and caught 223 Burmese pythons.