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The great 2016 Florida Python hunt is underway

MIAMI - The hunt is on for invasive Burmese pythons in Florida's wetlands.

The state's second public hunt for the exotic snakes -- which can grow up to 18 feet in length in the Everglades -- starts at noon Saturday and ends at 7 p.m. on Feb. 14. Over 500 people have registered to look for pythons across a swath of state lands in South Florida. Some authorized hunters also are allowed to extend the hunt into Everglades National Park.

On its website, Python Challenge organizers say they want the snakes dead or alive. There are rules, however. Contestants are asked to catch the critters caught mostly with hands, and that any use of "traps, bait, explosives, chemicals, smoke and motorized tools is prohibited."

Both teams and individuals are encouraged to enter. The hunter team with the most pythons at the end of the competition will fetch $5,000, while the individual with the most will get $3,500. The hunter team with the largest individual snake will get $3,000, while the individual will get $1,000.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say the hunt helps raise awareness about the threat invasive species pose to native Florida plants and wildlife. Pythons in particular are blamed for significant drop-offs in native mammal populations in the Everglades.

The 68 pythons snared during the first Python Challenge in 2013 provided researchers with an abundance of data, but the hunt did nothing to curb the python population.