It's unknown how the Burmese, African, Indian and other species of pythons found their way into the Everglades.
Biologists are almost certain that owners of exotic pets contributed to the nearly 140 invasive amphibians and reptiles living and breeding in the Everglades, a menace that competes with native wildlife for territory and food.
The idea of the challenge, an idea that officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed, was to make people who visit and relocate to Florida aware that releasing caged animals into an ideal climate is a terrible decision. They quickly become established.
Anyone who gets tired of raising invasive animals — or if they get too big for their cages — can give them to the state's pet amnesty program, no questions asked, said Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"It could be a python or a hedgehog, or a parrot, any number of animals we're dealing with," Segelson said. "They're given to qualified pet adopters who can care for them."
Pythons, which grow up to 20 feet, are tough to manage, as are green anacondas, the world's heaviest snake, also on Florida's most wanted list.
To figure out whether they are the gluttons who do in raccoons and the rest, Mazzotti is slicing up the snakes and removing eggs, sperm and guts to study what they ate. Snakes had to be dead before they reached the lab and had to be slaughtered under recommended guidelines — shoot it square in the head, or cut it clean off.
The challenge had one last purpose, which is where Ramirez and Brana come back in.
In addition to the $1,500 prize for the largest haul in two categories — hunters with and without permits — and the $1,000 award for the largest snake, the state is considering another offer — a possible job, or a stipend for the best snake removers.