By: Fay Walker
There exists a dark underbelly in Mickey Mouse Land. Yes – in Florida, everything bites. From sunburn to stinging nettles, biting flies, ticks, insects, and snakes; Florida is home to a variety of flora and fauna that can cause anything from uncomfortable rashes to life threatening illnesses.
Ticks, spiders, and snakes are the most common threats with the most likely candidates for exposure to these threats being hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. While I could write a book about the poisons and toxins existing just outside our door, let us take a look at one of type of threat in particular – venomous snakes.
The southeast is home to many varieties of snakes: most of which are harmless and should be left alone as they provide effective control of the rodent population which can also carry diseases – rabies being a good example. Other snakes should be avoided if at all possible as they pose a threat to life and safety. As with any animal in the wild, all serve a useful purpose and ensure the balance of nature. If they are not a threat, they should be left alone to serve their purpose.
Hunters, in general, are avid outdoor enthusiasts. Their love of the outdoors overshadows their fear of the creatures that live there. If educated however, anyone can safely enjoy their hunting experience. Of the 44 native species of snakes in Florida, 6 are venomous: the eastern diamondback rattlesnake; the water moccasin or cottonmouth; the coral snake; the copper head; the canebrake, and the pygmy rattlesnake. Let us take a closer look at three of the more recognizable of this species.
Eastern Diamondback Rattler: The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is common in the southeast. It is large bodied, heavy, venomous and can be found in both wooded and urban areas. Its common meals are rodents, and small game such as rabbits or birds. It is one of the more well-known snakes in that it carries a warning. It is equipped with a series of buttons at the tail which, if threatened, will rattle a fair warning. In general, predators do not try to kill and eat anything bigger than they can manage. When hunters interact with a rattlesnake, it is typically by accident. Remember: the rattlesnake does not want to kill you – you are too big. This being said, it will give you a fair warning to let you know that you need to move on before it will protect itself, as any wild animal would.
Because it is venomous, it should be avoided unless circumstances negate a non-combative encounter. Hunters should always wear snake boots while traversing through the woods – especially in the southeast. Snake boots will prevent a good day of hunting from turning into a bad week in the hospital.
Water Moccasin/Cottonmouth: The water moccasin is well known for its love of the water. It can often be found in swamps, floating in puddles, and in areas that are frequently flooded with seasonal rains. Hunters can and do interact with water moccasins almost as frequently as the rattlesnake. Some of the best hunting in the southeast can occur near a water source. The water moccasin is a snake that should not be trifled or played with. Unlike the rattlesnake; it is more easily agitated; is quite agile; and in general does not provide a warning other than a display of its gaping mouth, hence its other name, “cottonmouth.” Like all snakes, it is cold-blooded and as such, its movements will slow down during cold winter months. Colder weather patterns will afford an easy escape should you encounter one. Again, snake boots are very effective at preventing a good day from going bad.
Pygmy Rattler: While small in stature and size, the pygmy is fully capable of defending itself. It can be found in wooded areas; hidden in the mulch beds around your home; and in urban areas. The size of this snake may imply that it is less of a threat but because of its ferocity, size and amazing camouflage, you are more likely to be bitten by one. Its venom is quite potent however it is unlikely to kill a human due to its small fang size. This being said, it will still cause enough duress that a trip to the hospital will be necessary.
I have had personal encounters with all 3 of the snake I have showcased in this publication; however the pygmy has been most true to form and description. My personal encounter with the pygmy rattler involved husband 2 or “H2.” He found a pygmy in our flower bed and rather than dispose of it, he decided to hold its head down with a stick in order to capture it. Its return aggression was so quick that it maneuvered its way around the stick to bite him on the finger before he could say, “hold my beer.”
After several hours in the hospital where he was informed that the cure was worse than the bite, he was sent home to recover but not before the poison seeped into every aching joint in his body with the tenacity of Lyme disease. Six weeks later he was finally on the mend and with a new respect for this small but determined species. While he learned this from experience, I also learned to check the flower beds before I worked in them. Our children frequented the beds to pull weeds and the outcome could have been much worse had it been one of them that encountered this fiery little snake.
If you plan to spend the hunting season in the deep woods of the south, invest in a good pair of snake boots. These days, you can find boots that serve multiple purposes to include water resistant boots, thermal boots, snake boots, or any combination of the three options. Choose the pair that best suits the environment you plan to hunt to ensure your hunt ends in a good way.
Cabelas ( www.cabelas.com ) and Bass Pro Shop ( www.basspro.com ) are just two outdoor sporting goods stores that provide an excellent assortment of hunting boots
I hope you enjoyed this publication on snakes in Florida. If you would like more information on venomous snakes, please check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This website also links to a wonderful guide on venomous snakes in Florida.
(Snake photos posted courtesy of John Ashbin, copyrighted)