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Python hunter Jason Leon set a record for the longest snake caught as part of SFWMD's Python Elimination Program with this 17-foot-1-inch Burmese python that he brought to the District's Homestead Field Station on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. The South Florida Water Management District

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A Naples charter captain spotted a Burmese python swimming across Naples Bay earlier this week.

Stephen Iannotta was heading out of Port O’Call Marina toward open water Thursday morning when he saw a large snake coiled up in the water. Iannotta pulled the boat up beside the snake and identified it as a Burmese python from its size and coloring.

“It was kind of lethargic. It looked like it had been swimming for a while,” Iannotta said.

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The roughly 6-foot python appeared to be swimming from an area near Windstar on Naples Bay and was headed west toward Port Royal.

Iannotta said it was the first time he had seen a python in Naples Bay. He has spotted smaller snakes, including black racers and rat snakes.

“I’ve never seen a python swimming across the bay like that and I’ve had many hours and days that I’ve driven through there,” he said.

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Burmese pythons and other large pythons are “excellent” swimmers, said Vittoria Vaturi, a reptile keeper at the Naples Zoo.

“At all sizes and ages, they are great swimmers,” she said about Burmese pythons.

The zoo has one Burmese python, which is nearly 11 feet long and weighs about 60 pounds, Vaturi said.

Seeing a python swimming along the Gulf coast is rare, said Mike Bailey, the owner of Ms. B Haven Fishing and Eco Charters out of Port O' Call Marina. Iannotta operates charters for Bailey.

Although Burmese pythons typically swim in fresh water, they can tolerate salt water in small amounts, Vaturi said.

Summer rains might have created more tolerable conditions for the python to swim into the saltwater bay, Bailey said.

“Right now, we’re in the height of our rainy season,” he said. “Actually, this water in Naples Bay is almost totally fresh water on top.”

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Bailey and Iannotta think the snake might have swam from an area of mangroves along the coast or from a freshwater canal that flows into the bay. 

Iannotta pulled the snake onto the boat with a gaff, killing it. He put the snake on ice and disposed of it once he reached shore at the end of the day.

Burmese pythons, native to Southeast Asia, are an invasive species in Florida after being imported as pets.

Vaturi, of the Naples Zoo, suggests people contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to report or remove pythons. People also can help report and track Florida's invasive plants and animals by using an app called IveGot1, she said. 

Burmese pythons are among the world’s largest snakes. They can grow to 23 feet long and weigh 200 pounds. 

The python sighting surprised Iannotta and his three passengers on their fishing trip.

“They were shocked and I was too, and then we just continued on about our day,” Iannotta said.

They went on to catch several Spanish mackerels, mangrove snappers and a 5-foot-long black-tipped shark, among other fish.

More Burmese python stories: 

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