- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

MIAMI (AP) - A cold snap may be giving humans an edge early in a state-sanctioned hunt for elusive Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades.

Since the second Python Challenge began a week ago, hunters have turned in 39 of the invasive snakes, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The first monthlong python hunt on state lands in 2013 netted 68 of the snakes, the longest measuring over 14 feet long.

The beginning of this year’s hunt coincided with a dip in temperatures. Chilly weather can drive the tan, splotchy snakes from the wetlands where they extremely hard to spot into the open as they seek warmth.

“Cooler temperatures on sunny days is kind of a good situation for finding pythons because they’re more likely to be on levies and roads sunning themselves,” commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said Friday.

A cold front over the last week pushed temperatures across South Florida into the lower 50s at night, which is below normal, said Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.

Another cold front that is driving a blizzard toward much of the East Coast will cause temperatures here to plunge into the 40s, with a wind chill in some inland areas in the upper 30s, he said.

Over 800 people have registered for this year’s python hunt, which ends Feb. 14.

No additional information about the pythons caught so far was immediately available, Segelson said.

During the hunt’s opening weekend, a wildlife commission officer caught a 16-foot-10-inch python in a narrow stretch of state land just west of Homestead, in the Miami suburbs, that is open for the competition.

“I’m sure some of the people registered for the Python Challenge were disappointed that one of our officers took such a big one, but obviously he had to take advantage of the situation and remove an invasive snake,” Segelson said.

Individuals and teams registered for the hunt are competing for cash prizes, while they snakes they catch are turned over to researchers.

In an average year, only about 200 pythons are caught in Florida, even though tens of thousands may be slithering through the wetlands. The pythons’ natural camouflage makes them difficult to find, even for researchers who blame them for enormous losses in native mammal populations.

The population of Burmese pythons likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They can grow to be more than 20 feet long and have no natural enemies in Florida other than very large alligators, humans or cold weather.

Record cold temperatures killed hundreds of pythons in the Everglades in January 2010 but, to researchers’ dismay, large numbers of the snakes still thrived.

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