Unwanted visitor: Huge Burmese python found on city property near Marco airport

Mike Gee, right, holding the head of a 14-foot python and Chris Sparacino, Marco Island community affairs administrator holding the snake’s tail, assist a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official while bagging the snake.

Mike Gee, right, holding the head of a 14-foot python and Chris Sparacino, Marco Island community affairs administrator holding the snake’s tail, assist a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official while bagging the snake.

Nancy Richie, Marco Island environmental specialist, and Mike Gee of Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant look into a valve box at a 14-foot python that has managed to climb into the concrete encasement.

Nancy Richie, Marco Island environmental specialist, and Mike Gee of Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant look into a valve box at a 14-foot python that has managed to climb into the concrete encasement.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official tries to coax this 14-foot python found Thursday into a capture bag at Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission official tries to coax this 14-foot python found Thursday into a capture bag at Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.

This 14-foot python put up a struggle against capture Thursday at Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant. The snake was found in a concrete valve box.

This 14-foot python put up a struggle against capture Thursday at Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant. The snake was found in a concrete valve box.

As much as Nancy Richie, Marco Island environmental specialist, loves nature, on Thursday she had to ask the question: Why did it have to be snakes?

Richie received a call at 11 a.m. from Mike Gee at Marco Island’s Waste Water Treatment Plant, 1955 Mainsail Drive, near the executive airport. Gee reported that Advanced Lawn Care had discovered a large snake on the premises. The snake was coiled inside a valve cover box located at the northeast corner of the property.

“It was on the side of the property closest to water and mangroves,” Richie said Friday.

Richie and two other staff members responded to the call, after informing Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of the discovery. Gee described the snake as a Burmese python, and said it had entered the valve box by burrowing under the concrete slab around the cover.

Gee lifted the cover for Richie to observe the python’s position in the box.

“It was huge. It was coiled up and I could see it breathing in and out,” Richie said.

Gee, a collector of reptiles and exotic pets, told Richie the python appeared to be female and in the process of shedding its skin. He made the assessment by examining the snakes eyes and behavior.

When an FWC officer arrived, he tried to remove the python and place it into a snake bag using a pole and hook. The snake responded to the disturbance by uncoiling and attempting to escape from the valve box. As the python extended to its full length, it appeared to be around 12- to 14-feet long, Richie said.

Gee then grabbed the python by its tail, pulling it away from the box. With the snake flailing about, Gee jumped on top of it, grabbing its head. The snake retaliated by starting to wrap its body around his leg.

Chris Sparacino, community affairs administrator who had accompanied Richie to the scene, grabbed the python’s tail to control it and keep Gee from harm. The FWC officer, Gee and Sparacino maneuvered the snake into the bag, tying it to contain and remove the snake.

“The bag must have weighed over 100 pounds,” Richie said.

“The python will be scanned for a microchip that could identify its owner,” Richie said in an email. It then will be euthanized and autopsied for research and to check for any eggs it might be carrying.

In her email, Richie said the number of pythons in the area is increasing, and they are considered an invasive species. They have been blamed for the decline of the marsh rabbit species and loss of other native wildlife in the Everglades.

FWC describes Burmese pythons as “tan in color with dark blotches along the back and sides. The blotches look like puzzle pieces that resemble the markings on a giraffe. They have a pyramid-shaped head with a dark, arrowhead-shaped wedge extending toward the nose.”

Burmese pythons can grow to 20 feet and have become an established and spreading species in Florida, Richie said.

If you see this species (alive or dead) or any lizard 12 inches or larger or snakes with shiny scales and bold markings, please call immediately: 1-888-IVE-GOT1 and report online at www.ivegot1.org, Richie wrote.

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