MIAMI -

The longest Burmese python ever caught in the state - 18 feet, 8 inches long and 128 pounds - was found alongside a rural South Florida road, wildlife officials said Monday.

About 3 feet of the snake was spotted sticking out of some roadside brush May 11 by Jason Leon of Miami and some friends as they drove late at night through a rural area of southeast Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Leon got out of his car, grabbed the snake behind its head and dragged it into the open, officials said. When the snake tried to wrap itself around Leon's leg, he called to his friends for help and then killed it with a knife. He once owned Burmese pythons as pets and knew how to handle the snake, according to the wildlife commission.

The wildlife commission is grateful to Leon for spotting the snake and reporting its capture, said Kristen Sommers, head of the wildlife commission's exotic species coordination section.

Leon reported the python to the local wildlife commission office, which connected him with the Florida's exotic species hotline, www.IveGot1.org. The snake was eventually turned over to University of Florida researchers for a necropsy.

The female snake was not carrying any eggs, the University of Florida scientists said.

"This event highlights how the exotic species hotline allows the public to help us obtain more information about Burmese pythons, so we can improve management of this invasive species," Sommers said.

The previous record for the longest python caught in the wild in Florida was a 17-foot-7-inch, 164 ½-pound python caught in August in Everglades National Park.

Pythons are an invasive species in Florida, where researchers believe they are eating their way through populations of native mammals in the Everglades. No one knows exactly how many pythons there are here, but the population likely developed from pets released into the wild.

Florida now prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.