IF HAVE AN EMERGENCY, CALL 911, and they will put you through to The Florida Poison Information Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 if you need help or think you've been bitten. This is a state-wide call center and the call is free. The one serving Tampa is out of Tampa General Hospital and is affiliated with the University of South Florida College of Medicine. At all times, there is a Physician Toxicologist, a Registered Nurse trained in toxicology, and an Entomologist there, and they are open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Special Thanks goes to Mark Kenderdine, and his son Russ (who I guess took the pictures), who provided me with most of the photographs you will see on this page!


Pre-Cautions and Helpful Facts

Before hiking in an unfamiliar area, make sure you have the number of the nearest hospital (or the number listed for emergencies up above) and see if they're equipped to handle venomous snake bites. Some are, some aren't.
Reptiles (including snakes) don't carry the rabies virus. However, you may need a tetanus shot for the puncture wounds, if you get bit.
Snakes may not be able to externally hear, but they can feel vibrations acutely. They will get out of the way if they can.
WATCH YOUR STEP!! When out of their natural environment, you can see them clearly, but those beautiful patterns are meant to camouflage the animal when in their natural environment!
Generally, the younger the snake, the more likely it is that that they haven't learned to control how much venom they inject, resulting in injecting far more venom than an adult would. Adults can control how much venom they inject and sometimes they don't inject any. These are known as "dry bites"
If you are going on a "snake hunt" for photographs, please respect the rules of the area into which you are hunting. Many protected areas don't allow the feeding or harassment of ANY of their protected animals.
If you're trying to pose a snake for a picture, remember that poking at them with a snake hook, grabber or branch will not make them pose like Cindy Crawford. They are more likely to get into a defensive/attack position. While that makes for a great shot, please be careful not to get into their "strike range". An Eastern Diamond back Rattlesnake strikes so quickly, that to our eyes, they give only the illusion of movement, when they have indeed moved, bit, and withdrawn! Safety first with these critters, don't underestimate them and respect what they can do. Don't ever think you can "beat" them. These animals are masters at what they do.
Not all rattlesnakes rattle in warning, or before they bite. The dusky pygmy rattlesnake has a small rattle that sounds like an insect more than a rattle. Other species of snake will vibrate their tail to make noise in fallen leaves and other debris. This is just their way of pretending to be a rattlesnake to scare you.
DO NOT touch a dead pit viper (or other venomous snake for that matter). Their bodies are so geared to striking, that they can strike - and deliver venom - even after death for at least an hour. Consider it the snake's "last word" before dying.
Those snake bite kits you see at the store?? Don't really work. You have roughly a two-hour period from the time you get bit until you need medical help. But that doesn't mean you can stop off somewhere and eat! Seek medical assistance immediately.
Statistics show that between 10 to 12 people die each year, due to snake-related deaths in the U.S. This includes people who work with them on a professional basis, people who keep them as captive pets, people who actually do get bitten and constrictor-related deaths from pythons and boas. If you use common sense, and are bitten and get help immediately, then you have a good chance of surviving...you'll be in pain for awhile, but you'll be alive!
Most snakes (even non-venomous) strike if they have no choice. Remember that their venom is primarily used to capture their prey and aid in digestion, not as a self-defensive weapon. Though if cornered or angry, they have no qualms about using it. As mentioned up above, some snakes don't deliver venom at all in a strike, and others only a little. There has to be some left in their sacs to be able to capture their food.
Be aware that as we are expanding our own environment, we are encroaching on theirs. It isn't unusual these days to find venomous - or non venomous - snakes in your yard. Or a female that has just given birth. If you find yourself in such a predicament, and are in no danger of being bitten, please let them be. They will move on eventually. Or have someone come in to safely remove it and release it somewhere that the snake will probably like better. It's not their fault that they are losing their habitats.


What to do if you get bitten

Move away from the animal. Just let the snake be, and it will slink off for its own protection. Don't try to kill it, or shoo it away. Get some place safe, where you can start taking care of YOU!
I shouldn't have to tell you this, but I will: SEEK MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IMMEDIATELY!
This seems like such an easy thing to say (or type), but STAY CALM! Panicking increases your heart rate and will increase the flow of venom throughout your system. You don't want your blood pressure going up, so lay as still as possible.
Loosen up constricting clothing, and belts, and take off all your jewelry. The venom will not be isolated to just the bite area, but will eventually become systemic, traveling in your circulatory system. It could cause painful swelling and tight clothing and jewelry will make it even painful. If circulation is cut off, you could lose a limb. You also don't want to the venom to pool in one area, as that causes more tissue damage. It is actually easier to treat someone who has had the venom go through their system, where it has thinned out a bit. So loosen those belts and take off rings, bracelets, anklets, toe rings, belly button piercings, necklaces, watches and earrings...or any other piercings you may have.
Try to keep the bitten area below the level of the heart. This will make gravity do its job and slow down the spread of the venom.
Try to provide a description of the snake to the medical team assisting you. If you weren't bit by a coral snake, then you were bit by a pit viper. Though there are differences between each species, it's still a pit viper. Describing the animal, or taking a picture will help them pinpoint what you were bit by. BUT PLEASE DO NOT BRING THE SNAKE INTO THE HOSPITAL, DEAD OR ALIVE!
If you have a pen, circle the bite mark and write a time and date on it. This will help emergency room doctors determine the progress of the venom through the swelling. In fact, they will probably come in every hour or so and make lines with the time and date to show how far the swelling has progressed.
AT THE HOSPITAL: Try and make sure that the doctor treating you has some experience with snake bites. This could be invaluable if it comes down to treatment between say a Cottonmouth bite and an Eastern Diamond back bite. Most hospitals make sure you're not allergic to the antivenin now, but if they don't, ask them to check you before administering it. Note: if you're allergic to sheep (sheep, not wool) and papaya, then you're probably allergic to the antivenin too. If you have trouble breathing or any other weird symptoms after receiving it, call for assistance. Also, be prepared to sit and wait awhile. Not only will they probably give you several vials of the antivenin, they will also sit and observe you for any conditions that the venom might have caused, or if you got what's known as a "dry bite". Not all venomous snakes will deliver venom when they strike.


WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOUR BITTEN!

Don't cut the bite or try to suck the venom out. The venom could penetrate the mucous membranes of your mouth and cause more significant damage! And again, it would pool the venom in your body to one area and cause more tissue damage than if allowed to thin out in your system.
DO NOT apply a tourniquet to the limb affected. Improperly applied or left on for too long, a tourniquet can cause you to lose YOUR ENTIRE LIMB by cutting the circulation off and killing all the tissue, requiring amputation of the limb. Also, putting on a tourniquet keeps the venom in the specific area of the bite. It is easier to treat if the venom has thinned out a little in your circulatory system.
Don't apply ice to the area bitten. It may numb the pain, but it will cool down the area that was bitten and slow down the circulation of venom, and may even cause it to pool at bite site, making it more difficult to treat.
Please don't eat anything. Anything put in your body until you receive medical attention could interact with the venom.
Don't drink alcohol. And if you have been drinking it, STOP! It will thin your blood, and the venom already has a blood clotting inhibitor. It can also possibly mix with the effects of the venom, causing more toxicity. Also, being drunk might prevent you from feeling the full affects of the venom and give you a false sense of security about getting medical assistance.


PIT VIPERS



5 out of the 6 venomous snakes are in the pit viper family. So I thought I'd write a little bit about them before I go into explanations of all 6 species. The first photo you see up above is a close-up of an Eastern diamond back rattlesnake, with a thin red circle around a pit. The second picture is a black and white illustration between pit vipers and the coral snake and the other non venomous snakes in Florida. Both pictures courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Pit Vipers are identified by facial pits, one located on each side of their head between their eye and nostril. These pits are EXTREMELY sensitive infrared heat-sensing organs. Studies have been done where an eastern diamond back had his eyes covered and was given a large amount of rodents to catch in his enclosure. He got every one of them. When the pits were covered, he got none. These pits can tell temperature differences to 3/1000s of a degree, and allows the animal to hunt at night, "seeing" its prey through the heat-sensing organs. Many boas and pythons also have heat-sensing pits, around their upper mouths, but the pit viper's pits are more sensitive then that. They can even tell the ambient air temperatures!

Other defining characteristics of the pit viper are their broad, triangle shaped heads and elliptical eye pupils. They also tend to be heavy bodied. Another characteristic that I look for, is that the pit viper seems to have a eyebrow like ridge over its eyes, making them look mean and angry. While all rattlesnakes are pit vipers, not all pit vipers are rattlesnakes, as you will see later on in my species descriptions.

Their venom is a hemotoxin, meaning that it destroys red blood cells and walls of blood vessels. The venom is delivered through two hypodermic like fangs that are automatically extended when the snake opens its mouth. While the mouth is closed, they lay flat against the roof. These fangs are attached to the venom sacs located at the back of the head (giving them the triangular head). They can control the amount of venom that is dispensed. Since they are nocturnal and heavy-bodied for the most part, pit vipers rely on their camouflage patterns to get their prey. At night, they sit very still in an area where they blend in, and when some hapless little critter comes along that they can eat, they strike so fast that it can't be seen with the human eye (Eastern diamond backs have the fastest strike). They wait for a few minutes for the venom to do its thing in their victim and then go follow it through the scent trail it left behind.

The five pit vipers in Florida are the Southern Copperhead and Canebrake (or Timber) Rattlesnake, occurring in the northern part of the state only, the Eastern Diamond back Rattlesnake, Pygmy Rattlesnake and Cottonmouth (or Water Moccasin) occuring throughout the state.


DESCRIPTIONS OF FLORIDA'S VENOMOUS SNAKES

Eastern Diamond back Rattlesnake


pictures courtesy of Mark and Russ Kenderdine. Please note that the bottom picture is one of a juvenile Eastern Diamond back Rattlesnake.

This beautiful snake is the largest and most dangerous North American rattlesnake. It ranks high on the list of venomous snakes of the world because of large body sizes, quantity of venom and tremendous striking speed (they can strike and recoil back to pre-strike condition in 1/4 a second!). Am I making you feel better yet?? Treat these guys with extreme caution. When disturbed, they will assume a defensive posture position with body coiled upon itself and rattle free and elevated to make noise. Head and neck are raised in an "S" position. They usually go about this noisily, hissing and shaking its rattle. It faces its intruder and will continue to rattle and hiss noisily...most of the time. From this stance, it can repeatedly strike and return to its original position so fast that it appears only as a blur to our vision. Effective striking distance is 1/3rd the length of their body. The recurved fangs that lie folded inside the roof are self-erecting when the snake opens its mouth wide to strike. As those two hypodermic needle like fangs enter the victim, the pressure caused will extrude the venom into the wound. The snake does not have to be coiled to strike, it can strike from any position and in any direction. When it is disturbed, it will usually, but not always, sound off a warning rattle. Although this snake does not jump, chase or go out of its way to bite you, you should never tease one or approach more closely than 6 feet. 1/3rd of their body length is usually what they use to strike, but they can strike accurately as far as half their body length. And it does not hesitate to strike anybody within that striking range. Most eastern diamond back bites are the result of human carelessness.

An Eastern diamond back is born with a button (this is the same for any rattlesnake)...that's the beginning of their rattle. At each subsequent shed (usually 3-5 times a year), a new segment is added to the rattle. However, you can't tell the age of a rattlesnake by the length of their rattles. The rattles can be broken, and unless you know the shed pattern of the snake, it isn't going to help you. Neonates shed more than adult rattlesnakes because they grow out of their skin more rapidly.

Statistics: Length: can go over 8 ft. long, but it is rare to see one over 7ft. Prey: Mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, shrews and occasionally birds. In fact, they serve an economic service to farmers by preying on crop-destroying rodents. Unfortunately, they are also valued commercially for their hide and meat (causing their deaths) and their venom (these guys are kept on farms to "milk" the venom from them to create the antivenin) and exhibition purposes (my suggestion, leave it to the professionals to exhibit them!)

Eastern diamond backs, like all but one pit viper, give "birth to live young". Essentially, the female carries the eggs inside her instead of laying them. These eggs have thinner membranes and when they are pushed out the membranes break and the baby emerges. They don't carry live young inside like a mammal does. Eastern diamond backs give birth to 9 to 15 young at a time. These little fellas are equipped from birth with their hypodermic needle fangs and a full load of lethal venom ready to inject. Babies and juveniles are more likely to inject all the contents of their venom sacs and can potentially be more dangerous than the adults.

The Eastern diamond back is found throughout the state, and many of the offshore islands. It can be found in any habitat but is most likely to be found in palmetto flatlands, pine woods, abandoned fields, and bushy and grassy areas, where it can use its camouflage to the full extent.


Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin


pictures courtesy of Mark and Russ Kenderdine

The image above on the top is an adult cottonmouth opening his mouth in a defensive posture to show off his "cottonmouth". The picture on the bottom is a picture of a juvenile cottonmouth. While juvenile cottonmouths actually look like copperheads, copperheads are only in Northern Florida, most notably in Liberty and Gadsen Counties. Copperheads are also an uncommon find, according to my sources, and have two black dots towards the back of their heads, where the last two large scales are.

When disturbed, the cottonmouth draws itself into a loose coil, cocks its head upwards and opens its mouth, showing the cottony white interior. They may also show their fangs and vibrate their tails like a rattlesnake, but with no rattle sound. From this loose coil stance, they can lunge out and in a fast strike, imbed its fangs into a victim/prey item. Usually the animal will retain its hold on his victim, chewing to get the fangs deeper in and more venom extracted. It does not have to be coiled to strike and can be in any position and strike anywhere. And yes, it can even bite underwater, though its not as powerful as an on land bite do to water resistance. If grabbed or stepped on in the water (or I'm sure out of the water), it will bite, but otherwise tends to avoid dangerous areas or areas where there is a lot of activity in the water.

Though usually found in water, along stream banks, in swamps, margins of lakes and in tree bordered marshes, you can also this guy anywhere in pine woods or other dry habitats. When in the water, it will swim with it's head well out of the water, unlike other water snakes. A nocturnal animal, it spends its days resting near water in grassy patches, piles of debris, in bushy areas or in low trees that hang over the water. And no, it does not fall out of trees on purpose to land in your boat. If you have a cottonmouth do this, then you probably startled it and it lost its balance!

Statistics: Length: Can exceed 5 feet, but usually the average is 3 feet. Common in every county in Florida and many coastal islands. For food, it likes to munch on fish, frogs, other snakes, lizards and small animals. Gives "birth" to 6-12 young...again, with fully operational fangs and venom sacs.

Note on its personality and venom: This snake can be aggressive (and in fact has that reputation) but it depends on the snake. Some are high strung, some aren't...just like any animal or human out there, I suppose. Their bite results in a great deal of pain and swelling. With immediate medical treatment, only occasionally is the bite fatal. This snake WILL HOLD ITS GROUND rather than back off and go into the water. Keep that in mind if you encounter one and use extreme caution!


Pygmy Rattlesnake (or Ground Rattler)


photo on top taken by Mark and Russ Kenderdine, photo on bottom taken by Carrie Gardner

These beautifully marked tiny rattlesnakes are known for their aggressive attitudes. They have a feisty disposition and are quick to strike at anything and multiple times. It may not look like it, but these snakes do have rattles...they're very small, like the rest of this small bodied rattlesnake (suffers from a Napoleon Complex perhaps?). Their rattles are barely audible until you come close to one, and then it sounds like an insect buzzing around.

Statistics: Stout-bodied for being so small, they measure around 18 inches in length. They feed on small frogs, lizards, mice and other snakes. Where to find them? Palmetto flatwoods, or in any area with wire grass. In fact, they can be encountered in almost any locality where there are lakes, ponds or marshes. No data on how many young they produce, but because of their relative size, it isn't many.

Although their bite can be potentially lethal in certain circumstances and very potent, it is delivered in small doses. So far, there have been no casualties associated with this species. HOWEVER THAT DOES NOT MEAN IF YOU ARE BIT BY A PYGMY RATTLESNAKE YOU SHOULD NOT SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT.


Sourthern Copperhead


top photo taken by Carrie Gardner, bottom photo provided by Mark and Russ Kenderdine

This is a stunning snake. These snakes are found in Northern Florida, primarily in Liberty and Gadsen Counties. They inhabit wet or dry areas in logs and wood piles (perfect camouflage for their coloring!) These animals aren't all that common, and there have been few reported bites with zero fatalities (but should you happen to encounter one, and meet its fangs, please seek medical assistance!).

Statistics: Length 30 inches long, number of young at birth I didn't have data for. It doesn't have a rattle, but will vibrate its tail when disturbed. They like to chow down on large quantities of frogs (especially in the Spring). Their bite is painful and causes swelling, like all other venomous bites should!

Difference between a copperhead and a juvenile cottonmouth?? Copperheads have two black spots on the back of their heads...sort of in the middle where the last two large scales end. However, if you are in copperhead territory, I don't recommend you going up close enough to see if they have these dots!


Canebrake Rattlesnake or Timber Rattlesnake


photos taken by Mark and Russ Kenderdine. The bottom photo looks as if the snake is about to shed, from the cloudy eyes.

This is a southern subspecies of the Timber Rattlesnake found in other portions of the country. Given its name of Canebrake for its tendency to hang out at old Sugar Plantations to catch mammals with a sweet tooth. They are found in the northern portion of the state, as far south as Alachua County. They favor flatwoods, river bottoms, hammocks, abandoned fields and hanging around farms. During hot weather, many will seek out low swampy ground. These animals are very well camouflaged. Their favorite habitat seems to be slopes leading to creeks running through hardwood forests.

Statistics: Seldom do Florida species measure more than 5 feet in length. Again, I do not have the data on how many young they produce. They are also not as aggressive as the Eastern diamond back rattlesnake...in a tight situation, they will usually try and get away. However, if you accidentally step on one, it won't try to get away, but rather sink its fangs in your leg. That makes sense, eh? They are potentially lethal.


Eastern Coral Snake


photos taken by Mark and Russ Kenderdine

These seldom seen burrowers are the oddball venomous snakes. They are the only venomous snake that aren't in the pit viper family. They are also related to some of the deadliest venomous snakes in the world, such as the mamba, cobras and the sea krait. Their venom is a neurotoxin, which attacks the nervous system of the victim, causing paralysis. This venom is the MOST POTENT of any North American snake. Luckily for us, this is a very timid and non-aggressive snake, not biting unless startled, tormented or hurt. Seldom seen, their habitats tend to be pine woods, pond and lake borders and the jungle-like growths of the Florida hammock forests where they burrow in places like rotting logs, piles of decaying vegetation, heavy fallen leaf cover and old brush piles. To find food, they nose around decaying vegetation and humus to catch and feed on other snakes, lizards, frogs and other small animals.

Statistics: A small-sized slender-bodied snake with a narrow head and round eyed pupils characteristic of non-venomous snakes. They can grow to 47 inches, but usually are less than 24 inches. The lay 6 or less eggs that hatch in 60-90 days and are patterned after their parents.

Due to their non-aggressive disposition, they have been picked up without biting. However, usually if they are bothered, restrained or picked up they will usually thrash around and try to bite. If they find a fold of skin or finger, they will hold on tenaciously. My advice...don't pick them up!! The most vulnerable part of the human body to get bitten by a coral snake, because of their small mouths, are fingers, toes and the skin in between (however, a larger coral snake can obviously bite through more). A bite can cause paralysis and suffocation. Antivenin is available and harmful effects do not begin for an hour, however, do not wait that long to get help! COMMON MISCONCEPPTION: Coral snakes are rear-fanged. FALSE!! They have small fixed front-fangs, and while it does repeat its bite in a series of chewing movements, a large specimen can deliver a dangerous dose instantly.

COLOR PATTERN: Coral snakes have two other species that are "copycats" in hopes that they will be mistaken for a coral snake and left alone. These snakes are the scarlet king snake and the scarlet snake. So how to tell the difference? I'm sure you've all heard the rhyme: "Red and Black, friend of Jack, Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow"...or something to that effect. Here's any easier way to tell a coral snake from it's copiers. Think of a stoplight in the United States. Green is on the bottom, yellow is in the middle, red is on top. A coral snake's pattern is black, yellow and red bands with the yellow and red bands always together. YELLOW: CAUTION!; RED: STOP! A coral snake's bands also go ALL the way around their bodies, unlike most snakes, where their bellies are a lighter color, and they also have black heads. The copycats don't.


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