ST. PETERSBURG — They're heeeere.
Nung Bedell spotted the invader blocking his drive home Saturday night on Brighton Bay Boulevard NE. It was 8 to 10 feet long, known to strangle its prey, eat small animals and make headlines.
It was a boa constrictor, a non-native species of giant snake let loose on the state's ecology by irresponsible pet owners. This one was the length of the southbound lane, and in no rush to go anywhere.
State officials say the entire species isn't going anywhere. Florida already has thousands of such boa constrictors and pythons and more are breeding. It's not just the Everglades' problem anymore.
"That's what blows me away," Bedell said. "We think this is just an Everglades issue? We're talking about St. Pete."
Bedell called the St. Petersburg Police Department. That led to a standoff: man vs. reptile.
"I kind of jokingly said shoot it," Bedell said. "But I really wanted the officer to shoot it."
Surrounded by four officers trying to corral it, the dormant snake suddenly jolted to life and slithered off into mangroves.
Bedell, a 38-year-old engineer, knows the snakes have become a big ,writhing mess in Florida. He pointed to the July 1 death of a 2-year-old Sumter County girl strangled by an 81/2-foot pet Burmese python that got loose.
Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said that incident could explain why the giant snake was seen in an urban environment.
"Dollars to doughnuts someone has dumped a pet because of all the publicity surrounding the unfortunate events in Sumter County," he said.
The St. Petersburg officers had tried to call Pinellas County Animal Services, Bedell said, but couldn't get any help. Animal services said it doesn't have a record of that request.
Animal services can only do so much with a snake that big. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it needs to get the call whenever a snake longer than 8 feet is found.
"Your average person does not want to go ahead and deal with snakes that size, especially not dangerous ones," Hardin said. "It's not for people who don't know what they're doing or the faint of heart."
Try telling that to Bedell. He's already gotten some pointers from a professional trapper.
This town isn't big enough for the both of them.
"I really don't like snakes," he said. "I'm determined to go out there and hunt this thing down."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.