• Florida wildlife officials are studying the mercury levels in Burmese pythons
  • Mercury is considered toxic and can be acquired from the food people and animals eat
  • If Burmese pythons' mercury levels are safe, they could be safe to eat

Looking for new meat to try? Pythons might just be the next new menu item in Florida.

Burmese pythons are non-venomous constrictors that are known to be invasive species in Florida. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Burmese pythons are considered a threat to Florida's wildlife because they prey on native Florida species and even endangered ones like Key Largo woodrats.

Because of this, the state has been working hard to control the python population. One of the things it does is training people to identify and kill pythons humanely. But it turns out, the FWC is looking at another way to manage the python population. It's checking if Burmese pythons are a possible food source.

As reported by CNN, the FWC has partnered with the Florida Department of Health to see whether pythons are safe to eat by determining their mercury levels.

"Mercury is a natural occurring element in the environment and it is high in the Everglades," Mike Kirkland, Python Elimination Program manager, told CNN. "Mercury bioaccumulates in the environment and you will find high levels of mercury at the top of the food chain where pythons have unfortunately positioned themselves."

Mercury is toxic and has been linked to serious health problems. People and animals can be exposed to it in various ways, including via the food they eat.

For instance, fish is considered one of the healthiest foods for people to eat, but they also contain traces of mercury. As Healthline explained, the amount of mercury in fish can depend on the species and the level of pollution in its environment, with some fish in certain streams around the U.S. containing more than the recommended limit of consuming mercury.

Healthline further noted that it is typically larger fish that have higher mercury concentrations because they eat many smaller fish that contain small amounts of mercury. Over time, the mercury they consume bit by bit accumulates in their bodies in a process called "bioaccumulation."

And since pythons are considered to be at the top of the food chain in Florida, it's possible that they, too, have high levels of mercury in their bodies. As such, determining pythons' mercury levels could help the public decide whether they should or shouldn't consider adding pythons to their menu.

For now, however, the study is still ongoing.

"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," Susan Neel of the Wildlife Commission told CNN. "The plan is to have most of these samples come from pythons that are caught by our contractor program."

Should the pythons prove safe to eat, what started as a wildlife problem caused by pet owners who released their pythons into the wild could end up in Florida dining tables.

Burmese python Pixabay