Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Know Florida's venomous snakes

Once, on a jungle trail in the Amazon Basin, I asked my Tirio Indian guide what to do if I was bitten by a snake. It has been more than a decade, but I still remember his response as if the conversation happened yesterday.

"Don't," he said.

I had heard about a local villain called the bushmaster (lachesis muta muta), the largest pit viper in the world. This tropical serpent, similar in appearance to the diamondback rattlesnake, could grow to lengths of 8 feet or more, and it had a reputation as a man killer. Since we were hundreds of miles from the nearest medical clinic, I was concerned about what would happen if I wound up on the wrong end of the bushmaster's venomous fangs, so I repeated my question.

My guide, a hunter named Koita, gave the same one-word answer: "Don't."

Most folks don't think much about rattlesnakes. Then again, most folks don't spend as much time in the woods as I do.

But just in case you were wondering, 328 people were bitten by venomous snakes in Florida last year, according to the Florida Poison Information Center. None died. With prompt medical attention, the vast majority of snakebite victims survive.

Still, when it comes to snakes, I try to follow Koita's advice.

Florida has 44 species of snakes, and of the four venomous ones found in the Tampa Bay area, the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest and most dangerous. Its venom is haemotoxic, meaning it destroys tissue and blood cells.

Diamondbacks live in just about every habitat in Florida, from salt marshes to scrub lands, and can grow to nearly 8 feet and strike objects two-thirds the length of their bodies away.

The easiest way to identify these snakes is by the tail rattle (hence the name) and a distinctive pattern of yellow-ringed, diamond-shaped markings that help camouflage the snake.

Despite the snake's nasty reputation, diamondbacks kill mostly rodents, and the species plays an important role in nature's balance. But with spring here, and the weather getting warmer, snakes are on the move and more likely to cross the paths of humans.

Know your snakes

The diamondback rattler isn't the only snake that can hurt you. Its smaller cousin, the pygmy rattlesnake, also called a ground rattler, has a small rattle that sounds like the buzz of an insect. This species feeds on small reptiles and mammals, but its bite can also pack a powerful wallop.

The cottonmouth, or water moccasin, prefers stream banks, swampy shores and tree limbs hanging low over the water. It is usually dark brown or black in color, so it is often confused with many harmless water snakes.

The country's most venomous reptile, the Eastern coral snake, measures less than 2 feet but packs a punch more powerful than an 8-foot rattlesnake. The coral snake is closely related to the cobra and has a neurotoxin venom that attacks the victim's nervous system.

Because of its bright yellow, red and black bands, the coral snake is often confused with the scarlet king, a snake with similar markings. Forget the rhyme, "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, good for Jack." If you are bitten by a coral snake, chances are, you'll be too preoccupied with the pain to remember the rhyme. It's much easier to look at the face: The coral snake's is black; the king snake's is red.

Play it safe, leave it be

Nine out of 10 snake bites occur after the victim has tried to pick up, harass or kill the coral snake. So a good rule to follow is: don't play with snakes.

If you suffer a bite wound, stay calm. The doctor will need to know what species bit you. A coral snake's bite is treated with a different antivenin than a rattlesnake's bite. Then get to the hospital immediately.

Until you get additional help, the Mayo Clinic, suggests applying a splint to reduce movement of the affected area, but make sure it is loose enough so that it won't restrict blood flow. Don't use a tourniquet or apply ice, and don't cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8808.

fast facts



Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Diet: Carnivore

Average lifespan in the wild: 10 to 20 years

Size: 5.5 feet

Weight: 5 pounds

Did you know? Feared as deadly and aggressive, diamondbacks are actually highly averse to human contact and only attack in defense. Most bites occur when humans taunt or try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. They can strike up to two-thirds (accurately up to one-third) of their body length. … Baby rattlers can actually be more dangerous than adults because they have less control over the amount of venom they inject.

Source: National Geographic

Know Florida's venomous snakes 03/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the warm response from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute were proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings, allowing 15 hits and 11 runs while lasting just seven innings total.

  4. At 6-8, Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov comes with, and needs, a high ceiling

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked that the 6-foot-8 defenseman could reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.

    Oleg Sosunov, competing in the Lightning’s preseason opener, is a 6-foot-8 defense-man whom Phil Esposito jokes can reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.
  5. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494