From Harmless To Not

Florida snakes scare the daylights out of most Yankee visitors and quite a few natives as well. A little bit of knowledge will go a long way toward easing those fears.

Of the 45 species of snakes in Florida, only 6 are venomous.

Some of the others might bite you, but a few stitches and a tetanus shot will fix you up.

Most Florida snakes are harmless and beneficial and remove extra rodent populations.

Even the venomous species are not particularly dangerous unless stepped on or otherwise provoked.

The venomous snakes are:

  1. the eastern coral snake
  2. the southern copperhead
  3. the cottonmouth
  4. the eastern diamondback rattlesnake
  5. the timber rattlesnake
  6. the dusky pygmy rattlesnake

There, now don't you feel better?

When most snakes see you they feel threatened and slither away from you as fast as they can.

If they can't get away from you, they do all kinds of interesting things to protect themselves.

Indigo Snake

They bite, of course, because they don't have claws to scratch you with.

The handsome fellow on the right is an indigo snake, one of the endangered Florida snakes.

Some species will defecate and smear the feces on you.

Others secrete a musky fluid and spread it on you.

As one who has lived in Florida for a long time, my policy about snakes is to leave them alone.

I have only been bitten once by a Florida snake, and that was when I accidentally cornered one in the bathroom of a shack I was living in while a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

It was a black snake about three feet long that bit me on the side of my hand.

It happened so fast I didn't see the bite coming. I saw the snake at the same time it saw me.  It was coiled in the corner of the bathroom next to the toilet.  He sprang up and bit me on the hand as I reached down to lift the toilet seat.

I calmly left the bathroom and closed the door behind me (I remembered it's important to stay calm!). I went next door and asked my Florida Cracker neighbor to come take a look at it.

He killed it with a machete and identified it as a non-poisonous black racer. I thought he might be right, but I wanted a second opinion.

I went to the hospital emergency room with the snake in a plastic bag. A doctor told me it wasn't a poisonous one, and gave me a tetanus shot, some antibiotic and a band-aid and I went home.

I plugged the gap around the bathroom plumbing so no more snakes could come in, if that's how he got in.

Coral Snake

If it had been a poisonous snake, I would have calmly (yeah, right!) driven to the same hospital, kept my bitten hand below the level of my heart, and hope like hell they had antivenom there.

By the way, that coral snake to the right is poisonous.

One of many sayings to help you remember if what you are seeing is a coral snake is:

Red on yellow- kill a fellow,
Red on black- venom lack

In other words, if the red band touches a yellow band, it's a coral snake. I usually forget the rhyme and just stay away from anything that even remotely resembles a coral snake.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides information on snakebite treatment and how to avoid being bitten by a venomous snake.

All snakes are carnivorous. Corn snakes, rat snakes, and pine snakes eat rats and mice. Water snakes eat fish and frogs. And so on. They aren't vegetarians.

If you live in Florida, snakes are nearby. If you have rats or mice around your house, you will appreciate having a rat snake for a neighbor. Leave them alone and they will take care of your rodent problem.

Some species, like the corn snake and green snake, are good climbers and live in trees and shrubs.

Others, like the indigo snake, coach whip and king snakes live on the ground.

Some others, like the brown snake and ring neck snake, burrow in the soil and leaf debris.

Some species, like water snakes and rainbow snakes, are aquatic.

Pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, cypress ponds, wet prairies, Florida scrub, marshes, swamps, ponds and lakes are all snake habitats.

Burmese Python

The Burmese Python shown above is not an indigenous Florida snake, but has become a real problem, especially in the Florida Everglades. It is assumed that most of the 100,000 or so pythons slithering around Florida are descended from pets that were released into the wild by owners who got tired of them.

These pythons can grow to be 20 feet long and eat anything that they can hold with their teeth and constrict to death. This includes deer, small animals, birds and even alligators. These snakes completely destroy the balance of nature wherever they live.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues permits to qualified people to capture and remove pythons.  The same agency also issues hunting licenses to people who can harvest the snakes and sell the skins and meat.

Snakes are everywhere, they just don't always let you know about it.

Don't worry about snakes; just leave them alone.  When I first moved to Florida, one old Cracker said to me,

"Thank God for the miserable summer heat, the mosquitoes and the poisonous snakes. If it warn't for them, we'd be overrun by Yankees".

One fine point to remember is that herpetologists and snake lovers in general will jump all over you if you call their beloved snake - or any snake for that matter - poisonous.  They will tell you that snakes are not poisonous, but some of them are venomous.  To be poisonous means to secrete poison, to be venomous means to inject poison.

Well, the Florida Crackers learned to live with us, so we can certainly learn to live with Florida snakes. Keep our slithery friends in mind when you are enjoying our many Florida activities.

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