Pythons Pose Slithery Threat to Everglades

Hunters in the Florida Everglades look for a snake in the grass, but it's not just any snake. Instead, their target is a giant predator with a knack for disguise, the Burmese python.

"You can be two feet away from one coiled up and not notice it until the animal moves," Greg Graziani told CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

Snake experts have been stalking and snagging the animals from Florida swamps for four months, an experiment to control a population that is exploding and expanding even to backyards.

Estimates put the Burmese python's numbers as high as 100,000. One snake can lay a hundred eggs every three months. They shy away from people, but an adult will strangle and swallow anything in the Everglades. The problem is nothing preys on it.

Out here in the Everglades the Burmese python can grow to 20 feet or more. It's the biggest example of a much broader problem: invasive species thriving in places they don't belong.

From A to Z - Asian carp jumping onto boats in the Midwest, zebra mussels clogging pipelines in America's rivers - more than 50,000 invasive species have taken root in the United States. Experts say they could cost up to $150 billion every year.

"We end up dealing with productivity losses, perhaps in some cases ecosystem losses," David Moorhead of the University of Georgia's Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health told Cobiella.

It's a side effect of global trade. Species hitchhike on transoceanic cargo ships and on produce-crossing borders. Another culprit: pet owners who decide their exotic friends are too much to handle.

The United States lags behind other countries in regulating invasive species, so states and counties do what they can.

In Florida's backyard the python season just ended. Fifteen licensed hunters caught 37 snakes. Hardly a success. Yet - a consolation for hunters - they're free to sell the skin and the meat. At a market in Boston, a pound of python goes for $35.

"You really want to be very careful preparing it as it has a delicate nature," Juliana Kolson-Lyman, the market's general manager, told Cobiella.

There may be more for the taking next year. Scientists fear another big snake is spreading through the swamp, the African python. It's just as big with a nasty temper.