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‘Clearly not a python': Video shows Fla. officer wrangling snake from car engine

Sgt. Van Pelt, who’s a state-licensed python contractor, responded and located a red rat snake, soaking up heat in the engine bay

By Mark Price
The Charlotte Observer

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Opening the hood of a car in Florida offers a level of risk like no other state, so no explanation was needed when a caller reported a “15- to 20-foot python” tangled in their engine.

Burmese pythons are an invasive species of snake that can reach 18 feet in South Florida, and they are known to show up anywhere at any time — like alligators.

The call came Monday, March 25, in the Lee County community of Lehigh Acres, and the responding sergeant knew instantly something was off.

Sgt. James VanPelt of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office found something orange coiled around the car’s battery, like a misplaced jumper cable.

And it was staring back at him rather defiantly, judging from photos.

It was clearly not a Burmese python.

Video shared by the sheriff’s office shows VanPelt forged ahead anyway, allowing the feisty snake to lunge and bite his hand, which was sheathed in a heavy glove.

He then pulled it out, like a hair in a bowl of soup.

So what was it?

“A red rat snake, soaking up heat from the engine bay,” the sheriff’s office wrote. “The snake was safely removed and released, unharmed, in a nearby wooded area.”

Red rat snakes aren’t venomous and average about 30-48 inches in length, though the biggest can reach around 72 inches, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports.

Mating season for the species starts in April, which could explain why one showed up in an unexpected place.

Lehigh Acres is about a 140-mile drive southeast from Tampa.

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