National Parks Traveler: When Ordering The “Everglades Pizza,” You Might Want To Hold The Python

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By Kurt Repanshek on December 10, 2012

The “Everglades Pizza” might be the rage in some parts of Florida, but before you sink your teeth into the pie with frog legs, gator meat, and ground python, check where the python came from, because the big snakes slithering through Everglades National Park are incredibly high in mercury.

“For some reason, the pythons that are coming out of here, they have mercury concentations higher than mine waste, a mercury mine,” says Dan Kimball, Everglades’ superintendent. “According to (USGS scientist Dave Krabbenhoft), they’ve never found anything that has this high of mercury levels that’s still alive. It is amazing.”

Back in 2009, Everglades biologists sent samples from two dozen python tails to Dr. Krabbenhoft to test in the USGS Mercury Research Laboratory in Wisconsin. Testing revealed that the tissue samples had a mean mercury concentration of 5.5 parts per million, “which is about three times greater than concentrations in tail tissues of the American alligator,” the USGS reported.

“The results for methylmercury, which is the more toxic and bioaccumulative form of mercury, showed that on average 79% of the total mercury body burden in the pythons was in the methylated form,” those who did the analysis said. “Whether pythons are more mercury-enriched because they occupy a higher trophic position, consume a more mercury-rich diet, or simply have lower depuration rates is unknown. In addition, an initial examination of this data set revealed no apparent spatial trends, or any associations with age, size, length or sex, so an explanation as to why Everglades python mercury levels are so high is as of yet unexplained.”

In Florida, officials caution against eating fish that have mercury levels above 1.5 ppm.

With the upcoming Python Challenge ™ 2013 coming to the Everglades next month, and at least one pizza parlor in Naples, Florida, offering the “Everglades Pizza,” the Everglades superintendent wants to spread the word about the high mercury levels in pythons taken from the Everglades.

“I don’t know where their source is, but obviously here, our pythons are really loaded with mercury,” said Superintendent Kimball.

Where does the mercury come from? Some of it is naturally occurring from the breakdown of plants and animals. Other sources include emissions from coal-burning power plants, said the superintendent.

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