MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) — The 2022 Florida Python Challenge is underway, with First Lady Casey DeSantis starting the annual event from Miami. According to state officials, there are more than 800 participants in the challenge this year, traveling from 32 different states, and Canada.

Registration for the Python Challenge opened Friday, with participants able to add their names to the list through Aug. 14. Applicants have to go through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to do so. 2022 marks the ninth time the state has undertaken the competition to remove giant, invasive snakes from the Everglades. Competitors can win thousands of dollars while part of the challenge.

“Today marks another year of innovative conservation strategies to protect Florida’s beautiful natural resources for generations to come,” DeSantis said at the event Friday morning. “This is significant because every python removed is one less invasive species preying on our native birds, mammals and reptiles. Our family will continue to support conservation efforts in the Everglades, and today I’m doing that by being one of the first out to hunt this invasive species.”

FWC said the snakes are harmful to native fauna as well as Florida’s ecology.

“Florida’s wildlife and unique landscapes are like nowhere else in the world,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said.  “The proactive leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis has been instrumental in providing us with the resources we need to remove harmful invasive species such as the Burmese python, and events like The Florida Python Challenge® provide an opportunity for the public to become personally involved in this important effort to protect our spectacular natural resources.”

As some of the largest snakes in the world, the Burmese pythons range in length from six to nine feet typically. FWC said the largest specimen captured in Florida was a massive 18 feet long. The snakes eat a variety of different species, from mammals to birds and even alligators.

SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JANUARY 10: A python is seen as Robert Edman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gives a python-catching demonstration to potential snake hunters at the start of the Python Bowl 2020 on January 10, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Python Challenge 2020 Python Bowl taking place a few weeks before the Super Bowl being held in Miami Gardens, is a 10-day competition to remove Burmese pythons from the Florida Everglades due to the threat to the delicate ecosystem that they pose as they have no predators and reproduce rapidly. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Not native to Florida, Burmese pythons come from India, parts of China, the Malay Peninsula, and parts of the East Indies. The population of pythons in Florida started in the Everglades National Park, but new data shows “the population is expanding to the north and west. Individuals have been found in southwest Florida in Naples and near Lake Okeechobee,” according to FWC. The state said pythons seen outside of south and southwest Florida are likely escaped or released pets.

Speaking with News Nation, one Florida man said the pythons use the element of surprise while hunting.

“They’re ambush predators; they’re going to lay and wait along the water’s edge and a bird, an alligator are unsuspecting,” Dusty “The Wild Man” Crumb said. “As the mammals are getting eliminated, yeah, they’re turning their sights to alligators.”

The Burmese python is able to bite and squeeze, with what Crumb calls “bone-crushing” strength. The snakes are prolific hunters and breeders, with FWC reporting a female python can lay between 50 to 100 eggs at a time. Since 2000, more than 17,000 Burmese pythons have been removed, according to FWC.

According to state officials, Florida Python Challenge participants in both the professional and novice categories can win cash prizes of up to $2,500 for removing the most pythons. More prizes are available for those who remove the longest pythons in both the professional and novice categories.

Registration is open even through the last day of the competition. Registration costs $25, and some time to finish out a free online training module before competing.