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Suburban serpents strike back in New Tampa

NEW TAMPA — When letter carrier Efrain Arango was bitten by a rattlesnake while delivering mail last week, at least one Live Oak resident felt his pain — literally.

Yolanda Diaz, a 45-year-old mother of four, said she was bitten by a water moccasin in June near the Live Oak Preserve Clubhouse, landing her in the hospital for 10 days.

This city girl who grew up on Staten Island wasn't aware of the dangers. "I'm not afraid of reptiles," said Diaz, who was in intensive care for four days, "so I had no idea how dangerous they can be."

She wishes there had been warning signs like the ones around New Tampa's lakes and ponds cautioning residents not to feed the alligators.

But it's a fact of life when living in suburbs like New Tampa, where humans have built their homes on nature preserves and drive their cars where deer still roam.

"Occasionally you see a deer, you may see an alligator and you can possibly see a snake," said Jo-Ann Pilawski, property manager for the Cross Creek community. "It's only logical."

In the case of the letter carrier, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake was in a mailbox not far from Wharton High and bit Arango as he reached for a package. Arango, who finished his route before seeking help at the New Tampa postal station, spent a couple of days at University Community Hospital.

Henry Mushinsky, a biology professor at the University of South Florida, said rattlesnakes are usually found in gopher tortoise burrows, which are common in suburban New Tampa.

The traumatic event is something Maria Hoffman knows well, too. A water moccasin bit her son Jake, now 8, in the left foot in a neighbor's back yard in December.

"Oh, I felt terrible for (the mail carrier) when I read about it," Hoffman said. "It's so painful."

Her son has healed completely but thinks twice about playing in conservation areas that surround her Kingshyre neighborhood, she said.

"You would never know any thing happened to him," Hoffman said. "Obviously, he's more cautious outside."

Jake's ordeal made the news, but few people knew what had happened to Diaz.

The saleswoman at Lowe's said she saw children gathered around a snake near the Live Oak Clubhouse about 5 p.m. June 10.

She tried to fling it into the woods, but it bit her three times — once on the left hand and twice on the right hand.

"It happened so fast, I didn't even know I got bit," Diaz said. "I looked at my hands and they started blowing up like balloons."

Within five minutes, Diaz couldn't breathe. During her 10-day stay at the hospital, she received 15 doses of antivenin serum, she said. Doctors considered amputating part of her right arm at one point.

Since that day, Diaz said she has seen opossums, deer and armadillos, but no other snakes.

"We have invaded wildlife," Diaz said. "It's a danger living here."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Suburban serpents strike back in New Tampa 10/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 6:26pm]

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