UF Has Key Role in Python Hunt


Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:58 p.m.

Frank Mazzotti keeps his countertop tidy — sharp tools as needed, a roll of paper towels, a glass dish or two. It's free of clutter, free of smells — and the kitchen sink shines.

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UF RESEARCHER MICHIKO SQUIRES hoists a Burmese python on the scale to find that it weighs almost 32 pounds. (THE GAINESVILLE SUN)

He has set up a perfect place to slice up meat. But to get to python meat, he first has to cut through the scales.

Mazzotti is leading a University of Florida research team that is examining Burmese python carcasses brought in through a statewide hunt.

Scientists say the pythons are squeezing Florida ecosystems the way they squeeze life out of their prey. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission created the first Python Challenge this year to lower their numbers and to raise public awareness about the invasive species.

Since Jan. 12, participants have been hunting pythons in four wildlife management areas: the Everglades and Frances S. Taylor, Holey Land, Rotenberger and Big Cypress.

Fifty pythons have been harvested, according to the Python Challenge website. Participants can turn in snakes until Sunday.

It's hard to know how many pythons wind through the Everglades, said Robin Bijlani, the media coordinator for UF's Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Mazzotti generally avoids giving estimates, Bijlani said.

All carcasses entered in the challenge are dropped off for examination, which Mazzotti said can provide clues about their size, eating habits and possible contamination.

It's too early to spot trends in the findings, Mazzotti said, but he's glad the challenge is raising awareness of Florida's problem with pythons and invasive species in general. When he heard about the challenge, he offered UF as science support.

The Python Challenge has received public support statewide. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson drew attention when he joined the hunt and dropped off a carcass for examina­tion.

The most successful hunters will get rewards, but UF's research data might prove the most valuable result.

Jack Hayes, dean for research at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said the center is one of 13 IFAS sites around the state.They function as extensions of the university that put researchers and graduate students from different disciplines together and allow hands-on regional research.

About a dozen people work in the python necropsy lab, Bijlani said. Two people usually can perform a necropsy on a large python in about two hours.

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