In a program update to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Executive Director Eric Sutton detailed the state’s response to last year’s heightened measures to get control of the Burmese Python population in the state of Florida.
State and Federal authorities have hired more hunters, tracking dogs, and even looked at how infrared tech can assist in better locating the snakes for elimination. Another concept was briefed to the Governor. Can python meat be consumed safely?
In a 2010 study titled, Mercury Bioaccumulation in Pythons from the Florida Everglades Region , David Krabbenhoft and colleagues revealed that the large snakes, some weighing in a 200lbs, have unsafe levels of mercury. They found that the snakes had up to 3.5 parts per million of mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends against eating anything with a concentration greater than 0.46 parts per million.
Despite these staggeringly high numbers, many people continue to eat pythons in South Florida. Many parts of the python are claimed to be edible, but most hunters keep to eating the snakes just once or twice a year. Python can be substituted in a variety of dishes that call for pork or chicken. A common method of preparation is to steam, braise, or pressure cook the meat before adding to the recipe. The flavor is akin to that of alligator meat. The eggs of the python can also be consumed like poultry eggs or used in baking.
How do they ensure the meat is safe? They use a mercury testing kit to check for elevated levels of the toxic metal in the snake’s meat. The research conducted by Krabbenhoft revealed no solid correlation between age and accumulation of mercury like in fish. He believes the high levels of mercury are present because the snake’s body does not dispel the mercury efficiently. Its is still unknown why the snakes have elevated levels at this time. “As an organism eating low on the food chain, such as marsh rabbit or rat, we would never have expected them to have a lot of mercury,” Krabbenhoft said about pythons.”
In 2019, Darren Rumbold co-authored a study that reveled that pythons located in the Southwestern part of Florida had lower levels of mercury present in their bodies in comparison to pythons in other areas of the state. It was discovered that the pythons who inhabit higher ground, like found in areas of the Big Cypress National Preserve, have lower concentrations present in their body.
The exact population of Burmese pythons are unknown across Florida. The first report of pythons in the Everglades National Park was documented in 2000, but it was not until 2012 that U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed them as invasive. Since then, efforts, like that briefed to Gov DeSantis, have been increased. “Python hunters from the water management district and FWC have removed about 6,300 pythons since 2017, with a recent record catch coming in at 18-feet, 9-inches.”
We will continue to monitor the research as it develops to determine if the python can become the “Chicken of the Glades”. If you are hunting and consuming pythons, be safe and understand the possibility of mercury present in the meat. Follow safety precautions if you are planning to cook and eat the meat or other parts of the snake.