Jacob Gehlsen was playing at his friend's house on the edge of Brooker Creek Preserve recently when he saw a neighbor girl catching lizards.
Compassionate toward all living things, even the cold-blooded kind, the 9-year-old screamed at the little hunter to stop.
"She was making them die,'' he said. "She was putting them in a box.''
Minutes later, he started running around his friend's back yard in his flip-flops when he stepped in a hole and felt a slight sting - like a twig stabbing the instep of his left foot.
But this was no twig. It was a pygmy rattlesnake.
Usually measuring less than 18 inches long, the pygmy rattler noshes on frogs, lizards, mice and other snakes.
A feisty creature, it is quick to strike, producing pain and swelling that usually subsides in a couple of days.
No deaths have been recorded, but it certainly hurts.
The rattler in Jacob's friend's back yard bit him three times in such rapid succession Jacob said he never even saw it.
"They're hard to see so they're easily stepped on by people,'' said Steve Harper, ecological services director at Brooker Creek Preserve, adding that pets are often victims as well. "They don't have a strong warning sound. Their buzzing is not easily heard. It can be mistaken for an insect.''
Jacob never heard a thing. He ran another 10 feet and collapsed in agony.
Then his foot started to swell and still no one knew what had happened. Paramedics arrived in less than five minutes and recognized the injury as a snake bite. Jacob was transported to Mease Countryside Hospital
By the time he got to the emergency room, the pain had become too much for the little boy.
"He started to cry a little bit,'' said Wally Gehlsen, 55, Jacob's father. "And he's a pretty tough guy.''
Several hours later, he was taken to All Children's Hospital and admitted into the intensive care unit. There doctors monitored his condition and determined he needed antivenin.
A couple of days later he was discharged and went home to the edge of the preserve where deer, rabbits, armadillos - and snakes - make their home.
"This kid has no fear,'' said Gehlsen. "He wanted to play in the same yard.''
His family now has a new name for him.
"We call him "Jake the Snake,''' Gehlsen said.
But Jake the Snake has to follow a new rule these days. No more flip-flops in rattler territory.
These days, Jacob said he's "walking perfectly fine.''
And he has something interesting to show his classmates at Brooker Creek Elementary School.
"I have six holes in my foot now,'' he said.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.