They slither through the Florida Everglades, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. They can grow to more than 17 feet in length.
They’re also really hard to find.
Florida’s monthlong “Python Challenge” kicked off last Saturday, and so far 21 Burmese pythons have been reported killed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The event runs through Feb. 10, and updated totals will be provided every Tuesday and Friday.
The snakes’ brown-spotted bodies blend easily into the brush, stymieing many of the gun- and knife-toting hunters looking to bag a python and a cash prize.
Grand prizes include $1,500 to whoever harvests the most pythons and $1,000 for the longest.
The money has attracted many hunters, but for state officials the hunt is a chance to help reduce the invasive species’ effect on the environment and to educate the public about the damage.
When dropping off their catch, hunters must include the snake’s size, the GPS location to pinpoint where it was found and other data. Wildlife officials hope such data will increase the understanding of the damage caused by pythons and how to combat it, state officials say.
Native Florida mammals, birds and reptiles have fallen prey to the massive snakes. This particular type of python is not native to North America and has no natural predator in the Everglades.
The hunt has drawn widespread interest, attracting would-be snake slayers from across the country.
Nearly 800 people from more than 30 states had signed up when the event kicked off. On Thursday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) even got into the act.