Neighbors of elementary school teacher William Buchman in Santa Ana said they thought someone had died in his home because the stench was so strong.
Instead it was 404 snakes -- more than half of them dead -- that were packed inside the five-bedroom house. There were also scores of rats that scampered over furniture when officers first entered the home.
"We thought someone was dead," said Forest Long Sr., 62, who lives next door to Buchman on Fernwood Drive. "We couldn't open up the bedroom windows. My wife started to gag and throw up."
Authorities were called to the home Wednesday and spent nearly the whole day there. Buchman, identified as a snake breeder, was arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty.
Sondra Berg, a Santa Ana Police Department animal services supervisor, said there was no evidence of food or water in any of the cages holding what were mostly ball pythons.
Four of the bedrooms were filled with racks that each held 30 to 40 snakes, she said. The surviving pythons will be treated by veterinarians and then given away, officials said.
One specialist said the surviving pythons from the home were worth at least $100,000.
Although Buchman was identified as a ball python breeder, Berg said that at some point he went from hobbyist to hoarder.
"It's pretty sad. Hoarding is pretty much a mental condition," she said. "They need help."
Authorities said the death of Buchman's mother in 2011 seems to have affected him intensely.