ST. PETERSBURG — The ancient Roman poet Virgil is credited with coining the term "snake in the grass" (latet anguis in herba), but he probably didn’t mean one like this.
Logan Ungerer was playing a couple of rounds at the Mangrove Bay and Cypress Links golf courses on Columbus Day when he spotted something undulating across the green near the 14th hole at Mangrove Bay.
"I saw what looked like a stick blowing in the wind on the green," he told WTVT-Fox 13. "As I got closer I saw a bird picking at it and knew it was a snake."
Not just any snake, either. This snake in the grass was a rather large Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Ungerer shot video of the snake and posted it on Instagram, where it immediately became a viral sensation, picked up by everyone from the New York Daily News to the Golf Channel.
Diamondbacks, known to scientists as Crotalus adamanteus, are the largest species of rattlesnake in the world, reaching up to 8 feet long, according to conservation biologist David Steen. They also are recognized as the largest venomous snakes in North America.
Steen was hesitant to make a guess about the snake’s length based on the video, because there is no reference point to use as a comparison. But 8-footers are fairly rare, he said, so it’s probably shorter than that.
Diamondbacks are common throughout the coastal plain of the southeastern United States, from North Carolina to Louisiana and including much of Florida, he said, "although their populations are declining in many areas."
They eat mice, rats, squirrels and birds, and prefer to live in pine flatwoods, sandy woodlands and coastal scrub habitats.
So how did one wind up on a Florida golf course in the daytime?
"Snakes are typically secretive creatures that have nothing to gain from interacting with people, so it is unusual for a snake like this to be found in the open on a golf course," Steen said. "It is likely that the rattlesnake was simply observed while traveling from one forest patch to another."
Mangrove Bay employees say it’s not unusual to encounter rattlers there, but the one in Ungerer’s video appeared to be the largest one yet.
Ungerer, 28, could not be reached for comment Friday, but he told a United Press International reporter, "I’ve played many courses and have stuck my hands into some pretty tall grasses or areas where one of these could have been, and seeing this massive snake has really made me realize that maybe when I hit the ball out of play, it’s just gone."
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.