When you think of a signature item of Florida apparel, what comes to mind?
Maybe one of those Jimmy Buffett parrot-head hats, a Lilly Pulitzer sundress, or a Canadian snowbird Speedo.
Well, there’s about to be one more.
You may have heard that we have a snake problem in the Everglades. So much so that the the state of Florida has been paying trappers to wander the swamps and capture those jumbo Burmese pythons, a voracious predator of small mammals, birds, and even alligators.
About 25 hunters have been paid $8.25-an-hour to look for the pythons, and for each one they catch and kill they are paid a bounty of $50 for the first four feet of snake, and then $25 for each addition foot. That works out to $200 for a 10-foot snake.
The Python Elimination Program was authorized because the snakes have been slowly swallowing up the Everglades food chain. For example, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced last month that if found an 11-foot, 31-pound python attempting to digest a 35-pound deer.
And that wasn’t even a big Burmese python. Last December, a python caught in the Big Cypress National Preserve clocked in at 17-feet-long and 132 pounds.
The python-killing team has caught 961 Burmese pythons since it was formed a year ago. One of those hunters, Dusty “Wildman” Crum, has been looking create a side business from his snake wrangling.
“We’re taking something invasive and trying to turn it into a positive thing,” he said.
Crum started taking some of the snake skins to his Manatee County home and tanning them in his back yard, but it wasn’t coming out right.
“So I got some alligator tanners to work in the snake skins,” he said.
And then he got in contact with Nikki Sedacca, a jewelry designer who owns a gallery in Sarasota. Crum used to sell her orchids.
Crum showed Sedacca the tanned snake skins, and the designer went to work, coming up with something she and Crum call The Florida Python Collection.
“Dusty gets the skins to the tannery and we pick out the process that we like,” Sedacca said. “The skins come back as beautiful long strips.”
This month, Sedacca introduced the Florida Python Collection at her gallery, employing the skins in everything from pendants, to wallets, to clutches and sashes.
“We’ve developed probably about 50 different pieces,” Sedacca said.
“The python skin is thicker than your typical snake-skin pieces,” she said. “And the pattern is just so beautiful.”
The Florida Python Collection is being marketed as “one-of-a-kind accessories” that are designed “with the hope of protecting, restoring, and saving Florida’s Everglades.”
One thing’s certain. There’s not a scarcity of raw material.
“I just dropped off another 100 skins to the tanner,” Crum said.
Without some severe intervention, these snakes, who are swimmers, are bound to expand their territory.
Burmese pythons have already been discovered in Key Largo, and Crum said he’s going to expand his hunts into the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County.
“I know there hasn’t been a lot of sightings there,” Crum said, “but there aren’t a lot of hunters, and the mammal population there has declined, so that tells us the snakes are there.”
Crum said that using the skins is a way of respecting the snakes he kills.
“I want to use every part of the snake,” he said. “It’s good for awareness.”
Every part of the snake? Is he talking about eating them too?
“I’m getting the meat analyzed for heavy metals and mercury,” Crum said. “If it doesn’t come back high we might start marketing them for food.”