Python hunting season opens today

Monday was the first day of Florida's hunting season for Burmese pythons, as the state attempts to enlist experienced hunters in fighting the huge, non-native snakes. Since the mid-1990s, Burmese pythons have infested the South Florida wilderness, consuming mammals, birds and other wildlife and competing with top predators such as alligators.

The state hunt runs through April 17 in parts of the Everglades open to hunting in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, including the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor, Holey Land and Rotenberger wildlife management areas. It is open to anyone with a hunting license who pays a $26 fee.

At this time of yearwhen the weather is relatively cool, pythons will be in the open, absorbing heat from the sun.

No one knows how many hunters are heading out because pre-registration is not required, but there are reports of people flying in from out of state to participate, said Gabriella Ferraro, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Hunters have 36 hours to report their kills.

The biggest killer of pythons in the past few months probably has been the cold weather, although biologists say many pythons were able to wedge themselves into places of safety and wait out the cold.

Although python meat is edible, the state advises against eating it because pythons from the Everglades are likely to contain high levels of mercury. The hides have value, being used in the manner of alligator hides to make shoes, handbags and wallets.

Brian Wood, president of All American Gator Products of Hallandale Beach, said since the state last year allowed hunters to kill pythons during regular hunting seasons, he's processed three into products, including a $900 pair of pants.  and  Then, send to your friends!