PALMETTO BAY — The South Florida man who caught and killed the longest Burmese python ever found in Florida gets to keep the snakeskin. Jason Leon of Palmetto Bay saw a few feet of the snake sticking out of some bushes alongside a rural Miami-Dade County road on May 11. When Leon pulled the snake out into the open, it turned out to be 18 feet, 8 inches long. Leon killed the 128-pound snake with a knife when it began to wrap around his legs. He reported his find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Wildlife officials have returned a roughly 18-foot-long snakeskin to Leon. The snake's skeleton is being preserved by University of Florida researchers. Leon tells WSVN-TV that he plans to have the snakeskin preserved so that he can mount it on a wall. He says he's awed by its colors. "Look at the pattern on that snake," he said. "I see God's creation, I guess, an artist." Leon used to own pythons as pets. He says he wishes he could have kept the one he pulled out of the bushes, but keeping its hide is the next best thing. "It's a beautiful snake," Leon said. "I know they're an invasive species, but I don't know, I wanted to bring it back." Researchers believe pythons are decimating populations of native mammals in the Everglades. Florida now prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species. The previous record for the longest python caught in the wild in Florida was a 17-foot-7-inch, 164 1/2-pound python caught in August in Everglades National Park.