Python sightings keep Florida residents jittery

MANATEE — Nina Turlington was walking a pair of Chihuahuas in her east Bradenton neighborhood one night recently when she noticed cats pawing at a bush by her garage.

She pointed the beam from her flashlight under the leaves.

"Oh, my God," Turlington said. "This can’t be."

Turlington had been talking to friends about the rash of loose pythons in south Florida, and a 3 1/2-foot ball python had taken up residence in her yard. She called 911.

"They asked how big he was," Turlington said. "I said I have no idea. I'm not getting close enough to this snake to know how big he is. I just want someone to come and get him."

Justin Matthews of Matthews Wildlife Rescue captured the snake in the 4900 block of 34th Avenue East, and is keeping it at his facility at Mixon Fruits Farms. Matthews is also keeping a 14-foot python, nicknamed "Sweetie," captured recently a block from a Sweetbay supermarket in East Manatee.

Public awareness about the python menace increased dramatically after a 2-year-old girl was strangled by a Burmese python in central Florida July 1.

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