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Python pizza: Latest exotic topping or just Florida's way to be rid of snakes?

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A Fort Myers, Florida, pizzeria has python on the menu. As a topping. That's right -- python, as in the enormous constrictor that has taken over the nearby Everglades as a particularly annoying invasive species. And apparently it's a hit...

AFP reported (via Yahoo News) Feb. 1 that Evan's Neighborhood Pizza in Fort Myers concocted the idea of putting some python bits on top of their pies as a way to drum up business. It's a topping on their "Everglades Pizza," named for the nearby national park where the Burmese python has become rather ubiquitous of late, prompting Florida officials to start hunting the lengthy snakes in an attempt to reduce their numbers. But as unwanted as the snakes are in the area, their appearance as a delicacy topping has become a much wanted item.

"It was just to create talk about the shop and being creative and this thing literally just went viral," says Evan Daniell, owner of the pizzeria. "People talk about it all the time and whether it's negative or positive, it really doesn't matter, because the fact is: we can make it and it's delicious."

The first thing that comes to mind to even the most casual of pizza eaters is: What does it taste like. Of course, there is the obvious comparison to chicken...

Daniell says the python meat, which is cut into what he describes as "slivers" and cooked after a few hours of marination until it is white, is "gamier" than chicken. He makes certain that each slice of pizza has at least one piece of python meat. The price is a hefty $45 per pizza, but it comes with two other swamp delicacy toppings: alligator sausage and frog legs.

Daniell's friend, Mike Gookin, came up with the idea of the python pizza after seeing a news story about the infestation in the Everglades.

To raise awareness of the python problem, chefs in the Miami area have held several cooking events where python was featured on the menu.

The Burmese python, a species that can reach up to 20 feet in length, has established itself in the national park. With no natural predators in the Florida ecosystem, the species has thrived. Experts believe there are as many as 100,000 of the giant constrictors living in the Everglades.

But if you're thinking that a rise in demand for "Everglades Pizza" and its python toppings will result in a plunge in the population of the big snake, think again. The Burmese python is difficult to find and kill, as was attested by Florida's Python Challenge which only saw 68 snakes caught over a 30-day period -- and that was with 1,600 hunters on the lookout. Besides, it is illegal to kill and process Florida pythons and sell the meat to restaurants.

For Evan Daniell, the secret to a great pizza is to have a supplier. It is also the secret to that massive price tag. "I buy it frozen from a wholesaler who imports farmed python from Vietnam," he says.

And that's something else for local officials to chew on: Perhaps the answer to making a cheaper python pizza and reducing the number of the big snakes in southern Florida is linked to a singular solution.

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