by Alan McBride

MIAMI, FLA. -- Nobody knows how many Burmese pythons infest the Florida Everglades and other wild parts of south Florida, calling the swampy areas their home.

But officials say there are 37 less of them.

That's how many pythons have been bagged so far in the Python Challenge, a program launched by state officials and supported by their federal counterparts, aimed at thinning the ranks of these invasive snakes.

The competition began Jan. 12, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and it should wrap up Feb. 10.

Officials say at least 1,000 people signed up to hunt these reptiles.

Researchers say the relatively small showing of dead snakes is probably more a testimonial to the creatures' ability to blend with their surroundings and become all but invisible to the casual observer ... or even the occasional determined hunter.

Many officials believe these Burmese pythons are the descendants of snakes that escaped from attractions after Hurricane Andrew as well as former pets that were released into the wilds by owners who no longer wanted them.

They have no natural enemies in south Florida, and have prospered to the point where there are documented cases of them tangling with the local wildlife.

Pythons have been known to consume small native animals and attempt to swallow alligators.