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  • Tara Crutchfield

Python Problem Reaches Pitch

It appears a hush-hush python problem is reaching a fever pitch around the outskirts of Polk County and rapidly slithering inward. The snake problem could reach critical mass within months, says resident python hunter and former A/C repairman Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts (no relation to the WWE wrestler).

Reports of nonnative giant snakes plaguing the Everglades stem back to the 1970s – a time of bell bottoms and Burmese pythons. Over the past four decades, the population of pythons in the Everglades has exploded. These constrictors are popular in the exotic pet circuit for their gargantuan size, unique coloration, and strangling power. Though not venomous, rows of razorsharp teeth angled backward toward their throat make bites more painful and easier swallowing (for the snake). Adult Burmese pythons can reach more than 75 feet in length and weigh up to 2000 pounds.

Lone python wrangler Jake Roberts has a manner at the intersection of stoic and sexy. The black duster caressing his dad-bod and well-maintained mullet gently flapped in the breeze coming off the lake as we discussed the snake problem and what Roberts is doing to combat it. His uniform? A gruff, nononsense kind of guy, Roberts keeps one cigarette in his mouth and another lit and ready to go between his fingers because “You never know which puff will be your last when dealing with pythons.” He also wears an eyepatch over his left eye. He considers the patch a cover for his ‘spare eyeball’ in case “the ‘thons get ahold of my other one.”

On his snakeskin belt made from the hide of his first kill are a row of gator teeth, a .38 Chief’s Special, katana sword, and beer holster (a koozie sewn into the belt). He keeps the straps on his camo Crocs pulled down, at the ready.

Roberts started as a part-time a/c repairman 23 years ago. He built up a clientele and eventually started his own company, Ice Ice Baby A/C Repair in 2005, servicing towns that skirt the Everglades. “It was routine to find a gator sunning himself near a condenser or a python hiding out in a vent,” he said. But when he and his wife Anna Konda-Roberts moved to Winter Haven four years ago, he expected to see his share of gators and snakes – though not pythons of man-eating proportions.

“The first snake I came across in a duct here was a juvenile – not very big at all. He was old enough to have just been released when someone decided their pet had gotten too big. I removed him and moved on.” Two days after that, Roberts encountered something more alarming in the ductwork of a house near Lake Howard – recently hatched python eggs.

As the scope of Polk County’s python predicament grew with each a/c job, Roberts felt obligated to do his part. “I’ve seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 pythons in Winter Haven alone over the last six months or so – way more across the county. Someone has to take care of these sneaky little snakes.”

So, Roberts added an unusual service to his a/c repair business website – snake wrangling. For just $169, Roberts will wrangle and capture any pesky pythons – big or small. All of Roberts’ captured snakes are taken to the Fort Meade snake pit off East Broadway. Detractors have questioned the effectiveness of merely moving the invasive snakes from one part of the county to another.

Roberts has partnered with a self-described snake charmer to minimize the risk of harming the animals or himself during a capture. His sidekick snake charmer and SoundCloud musician, DJ Hypno-Thighs, does what he can to lull the serpents into submission. His snake charming track record is...if-y. “I’ve been bit directly in the face once or twice, or every time I’ve gone out with Jake, but there’s a real connection between these snakes and me – I can feel it.”

Wrangling isn’t the only part of Roberts serpentine services. He prides himself on the research he does to keep the problem from reaching Everglades levels. He seeks answers to questions like why they flock to some urban and suburban areas more than others and what factors increase the risk of a residential python invasion?

A glaring correlation, Roberts says, in the number of chickens, specifically illegal chickens one owns. As you may have read in another feature this month entitled “Chicken Noir,” The Winter Haven City Commission recently passed an ordinance limiting the number of chickens per household to five and absolutely no roosters in non-agricultural zoning districts. This chicken mandate so close to the revelation of the kept-under-wraps snake situation is raising a few eyebrows. Does the commission know more about the snake/ chicken connection than they’re letting on? Are the commissioners training pythons to prefer chickens in numbers in excess of five to rid the city of its chicken crisis? Are the commissioners actually pythons dressed as people? That’s a political intrigue piece for another day.

“The more illegal chickens you have, the higher chance of a python invasion,” said Roberts. “They’re clucking timebombs.” Suppose you have more than five chickens or a rooster. In that case, the odds that there is a python somewhere in your house right now, probably the toilet, waiting to strike when you’re most vulnerable, increases 25 percent with each illegal chicken.

Roberts shared a few safety tips to give our readers. If you see any portion of a snake, head, or tail around your house or in a public area, the python wrangler urges you to stay clear and call his sneaky snake hotline, as this can be deceptive of the snake’s actual size. What looks like a small snake by the tail can be a fully grown adult or ‘big mamma,’ as he calls them. Reminiscent of the rhyme to help tell venomous coral snakes from the harmless king snake, “Red touching yellow will kill a fellow. Red touching black is a friend of Jack,” Roberts has a more succinct phrase to keep you safe around pythons. “Always remember, ‘they’re growers, not show-ers,’” he said.

In addition to the ecological implications of an invasive species settling into the county, it appears there may be economic impacts as well. Investors see the python ‘problem’ as more of a python ‘opportunity.’ An unknown entity has already claimed intellectual property rights to the terms/ ideas: Chain of Lakes Python Emporium, Spicy Snake Nuggs, Burmese katana sheath, Python Belt with Beer Holster, and Girthy Gus the One-Eyed Python.

Stay safe, friends! We’ll do our best to keep you apprised of the snake goings-on and whether our city officials are, in fact, sentient Burmese pythons in human suits bent on world domination, one chicken at a time.

To inquire about Roberts’ python-related services, email, april_


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