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article imageFlorida looking at making python a new menu item

By Karen Graham     Dec 20, 2020 in Food
Florida's invasive pythons might just become a happy-hour special if it turns out the snakes are safe enough to eat. But first state officials have to figure out if they contain too much mercury.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, partnering with the Florida Department of Health is investigating mercury levels in pythons to determine if they can be safely consumed. Depending on the levels of mercury, the nonvenous reptiles could end up being supper, or at least a snack - depending on the size of the critter.
The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is native to Southeast Asia and has been a staple of the pet trade for years. Florida has had trouble with the pythons since the late 1990s, but the snakes were not recognized as a breeding population in southern Florida until 2000. In 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior banned the importing of Burmese pythons.
Some estimates put the number of Burmese pythons living in Florida at as many as 300 000.
Some estimates put the number of Burmese pythons living in Florida at as many as 300,000.
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There are only estimates on how many of the reptiles are loose in Florida, simply because they are difficult to detect, but researchers say estimates range from a low of at least 30,000 and upwards of 300,000 pythons, and their population is growing along with their range in habitat.
Eating pythons may actually not be that unusual. After all, other invasive species - such as lionfish and iguanas are eaten as a way to control their populations. And in those survivor shows on television, people eat snakes just to stay alive.
Mercury levels in the environment
"Mercury is a naturally occurring element in the environment and it is high in the Everglades," Mike Kirkland, the Python Elimination Program manager, told CNN. "Mercury bioaccumulates in the environment and you will find high levels of mercury at the top of the food chain where pythons have unfortunately positioned themselves."
Giant pythons are commonly found in Indonesia and the Philippines
Giant pythons are commonly found in Indonesia and the Philippines
"We expect the results are going to discourage the public from consuming pythons, but if we can determine that they are safe to eat, that would be very helpful to control their population," he said. The massive snakes, like some fish, could be full of mercury, a neurotoxin that is dangerous to humans.
Carli Segelson, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, sent an email to the Sun-Sentinel explaining that “We would like to use consumption as another way to encourage people to remove pythons in Florida if the meat is safe to eat. The study will help ensure that is safe.”
We did find an old news story dated September 9, 2009, that reported on mercury levels being done on pythons in the Everglades. The New Times reported that tissue samples from two dozen Burmese pythons taken from the Everglades are showing "extraordinarily high levels of mercury," according to National Parks Service officials.
More about Pythons, Invasive species, Florida, menu item, mercury levels
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