Restaurants in Florida would be able to serve the Burmese pythons, an extremely invasive species in the Everglades if scientists confirm its safe to eat.
The Florida Department of Health and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are investigating the mercury levels in pythons to determine if they can be safely consumed.
Mercury is a natural occurring element in the environment and it is high in the Everglades.
Pythons are nonvenomous constrictors primarily found in south Florida where they have posed a serious risk to native wildlife in the region. The snake is not native to the state, and began appearing in the Everglades in the 1980s when it was likely introduced as an escaped or released pet.
The FWC encourages residents to remove and humanely kill pythons when they can at any time during the year, and to report any sightings to officials.
“It is early on in the process for the mercury study. We are currently in the tissue collection stage of the project, and Covid has pushed our timeline back a bit,” wildlife commission spokeswoman Susan Neel told CNN.
“The plan is to have most of these samples come from pythons that are caught by our contractor program.”
The Python Elimination Program is led by commission and the South Florida Water Management District, which is funding the new mercury study. So far, more than 6,000 pythons have been removed from the Everglades through the program.
The objective of the study is to develop and share “consumption advisories for Burmese pythons in South Florida to better inform the public,” Neel said, with the hope that Floridians could soon eat pythons to help manage their populations.
Burmese pythons in Florida:
Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia. However, since the end of the 20th century, they have become an established breeding population in South Florida.
Although Burmese pythons were first sighted in Everglades National Park in the 1990s, they were not officially recognized as a reproducing population until 2000. Since then, the number of python sightings has exponentially increased with over 300 sightings from 2008 to 2010.
Burmese pythons prey on a wide variety of birds, mammals, and crocodilian species occupying the Everglades. Pronounced declines in several mammalian species have coincided spatially and temporally with the proliferation of pythons in South Florida, indicating the already devastating impacts upon native animals.
Although the low detectability of pythons makes population estimates difficult, most researchers propose that at least 30,000 and upwards of 300,000 pythons likely occupy South Florida, and that this population will only continue to grow.
The importation of Burmese pythons was banned in the United States in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.