Snakes are a common and useful inhabitant of the Tampa Bay watershed and most are quite harmless. They can be found both on
land and in water, from coastal mangroves and salt marshes to freshwater wetlands and dry uplands. Many species even thrive in residential areas.
While most of Florida's 44 snake species are non-poisonous, six are venomous: the eastern coral snake, the southern copperhead, the cottonmouth,
the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the canebrake rattlesnake, and the pygmy rattlesnake.
In the Tampa Bay area, keep your eyes peeled for the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake and the Dusky Pygmy rattlesnake.
The Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake is a very dangerous snake and should not be approached. It is Florida's largest venomous snake
and may exceed 6 feet in length. It's mainly found in dry habitats, such as palmetto flatlands and scrub, pine woods, abandoned fields,
brushy and grassy areas. They often hang out in gopher tortoise burrows and around old tree stumps and fallen trees.
Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes can be recognized by the row of large, dark diamonds on the back with brown
centers and cream-colored borders. A dark line runs through the eyes to the back of the jaw. The tail ends in a rattle that is
used to make a loud buzzing sound when the snake feels threatened. However, some snakes may not rattle, even when
they are poised to strike. Venom is injected into its prey through recurved fangs that lie flat against the inside of its mouth
at all other times.
Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes
Pygmy rattlesnakes, also called ground rattlers, are much smaller, usually 18-20 inches in length, and can be found
in many different habitats including pine and palmetto flatwoods, oak scrub, open pinelands, palm hammocks, near lakes, ponds
or marshes - even residential neighborhoods. The rattle sounds more like a buzzing insect. Pygmy rattlesnakes are dark grey and
covered with numerous dark blotches running down the middle of the snake's back. Pygmy rattlesnakes might be small but they are
brave. They will bob their head and strike into the air if they feel threatened. While its bite is painful and can cause swelling, it does
not contain nearly as much venom as its larger cousin, the eastern diamondback, and no deaths have been reported from a pygmy rattler bite.
In most situations, rattlesnakes are difficult to spot since their color pattern blends into the background. Rattlesnakes feed on small
warm-blooded animals, mainly rabbits, squirrels, rats, frogs, lizards, mice, and occasionally birds. Rattlesnakes shed their skin several
times a year; females give live birth.
Remember that snakes usually bite people only if they are molested or threatened; if you see a snake simply walk away. They will not follow you.
Rattlesnakes reside in many preserves and parks throughout the Tampa Bay area. If you are out in the wilderness, remember these tips:
- Make noise while you walk, it will scare the snakes away.
- Avoid reaching under rocks, fallen logs or into crevasses. Snakes will often hide under them to get out of the sun.
- Sleep in tents and make sure they are zipped up on all sides so a snake cannot get in.
- Check boots, sleeping bags and backpacks thoroughly prior to putting them on.
IF YOU GET BITTEN
Rattlesnake bites are generally not fatal, but they can make you very sick and require quick medical attention. You will feel a burning sensation and
probably see two fang marks where the venom was injected. Swelling will ensue. This swelling can be rapid and dramatic.
Try to identify the type of snake, keep the wound area below heart level and get to the nearest medical facility or fire station.
Identification of the proper snake is vitally important. Should the wrong anti-venom be given due to a false identification of the species
of snake, the injury will be even more severe.
Information from Florida Fish & Wildlife and University of Florida IFAS was used in this article. For descriptions and photos of Florida's venomous snakes,
go to http://myfwc.com/media/1321792/