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Venomous snakes in Florida

Everyone who lives in Florida has seen a snake or two. Quietly, they slither through grass and weeds to find food. Since snakes are reptiles, they cannot regulate their body temperature. When we get cold weather, sometimes snakes can come out of hiding to find warmth along our homes concrete walkways and driveways.

When rocks and concrete are warmed by the sun, they hold in heat for long periods of time. Snakes will use rocks and concrete to absorb the heat into their bodies.

Most snakes can be found in habitats that provide food for the snake. Snakes will feed mostly on small vermin like rats, mice and lizards. Semi aquatic snakes like cottonmouths, ( sometimes called water moccasins), are usually found in shallow bodies of water like stream beds and swampy marshes.

Many people have seen black racer snakes in their landscapes and gardens. The black racer is one of the most common snakes we see in Volusia and Flagler counties. The juvenile black racers are light grey with brown and black patches running along their bodies. Juvenile black racers are often mistaken for a venomous species and needlessly killed. Adult black racers are all black in color and move very fast.

Your chances of being bit by a venomous snake increases ten-fold just by trying to kill it. A snake will not bite if it doesn’t feel threatened. Most bites occur accidentally. If you’re bitten and are unsure what kind of snake bit you, it’s best to seek medical help right away.

To understand snakes, first let’s look more closely at the real reason people fear snakes – the venom.

The term venomous is derived from animals or insects that inject venom into you by a sting or bite. Poisonous means something you have ingested, like accidentally drinking antifreeze. In which case you would have been poisoned – and probably murdered.

A snake’s venom is really just a specialized saliva made out of enzymes and proteins which is used to immobilize prey. A snake’s instinct for survival is to be as still and quiet as possible. Moving slowly toward its prey, a snake will deliver a super fast quick bite. Venom is produced in the snakes head

Venom can be either hemotoxic, neurotoxic or cytotoxic.
Hemotoxic means the venom attacks red blood cells. Neurotoxic means the venom attacks the nervous system. Cytotoxic venom attacks the skin.

A snake’s venom flows through hollow openings in the fangs and is pumped directly into the bloodstream of its prey.

Here in Volusia and Flagler counties, we do have a few venomous snakes that can cause us harm, but most encounters are with non venomous snakes.

The Pygmy rattlesnake

The Pygmy rattlesnake is a venomous snake found all throughout Florida including Flagler and Volusia counties. They are considered a small snake, reaching about 12 – 24 inches in length. Although very small, they do have a rattle at the end of their tail but it is seldom heard.

A common misconception is how dangerous Pygmy rattlesnakes are. If you were to be bitten by one, it is very unlikely to kill you, but will require a trip to the emergency room. These bites can cause necrosis which is when your skin around the bite turns black and dies. The good news is in the state of Florida, there are very low reported deaths resulting from a Pygmy rattlesnake bite in humans. The bad news is, many people do get bit by dangerous snakes by accidentally coming into contact with them.

Rattlesnakes are pit vipers meaning they have heat seeking organs on their heads to sense the ambient temperature around them. Combined with their eyes, snakes with pit organs have both a visual and an infrared view of their surroundings.

Found mostly in dry pine forests, their markings camouflage themselves surrounding landscapes.

The Copperhead

Copperhead snakes are also pit vipers and they are found mostly in the northern parts of Florida. These snakes have a grey to red coloring that resembles copper. They are often mistaken for rat or corn snakes due to their color and markings.

The rattlesnake

Canebrake rattlesnakes, also called timber rattlesnakes are very large rattlesnakes also found in the northern part of Florida. The venom from this snake is extremely dangerous to humans. A bite from this snake could kill an average size adult. The venom has been shown to be both hemotoxic and neurotoxic.

The Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a very venomous snake that can kill their prey with one bite. They have a large rattler on the end of their tail that they vigorously shake to warn you of their danger.

Some eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have reached up to eight feet in length making them the largest of the venomous snakes found in Florida.

A bite from an eastern diamondback rattlesnake is tremendously painful and could be deadly. Even a very small amount of venom can render you paralized. Within a few minutes after being bitten from a diamondback snake, the venom coursing through your veins will slowly paralyze you. If you don’t receive medical help within two hours of being bitten, permanent tissue damage and or death can occur.

Florida’s eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are found all throughout Florida including Flagler and Volusia counties. They can commonly be found in pinelands, along the coast and barrier islands, they easily blend in with their surroundings making them hard to spot.

Never try to kill or pick up an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, they are way too dangerous. They can strike up to two – thirds their body length.

Like most snakes, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake feeds on small rodents like rats, mice and rabbits.

The Eastern coral snake

The eastern coral snake is found everywhere in Florida except the southernmost key islands. Deadly predators, they have the most potent venom out of all the venomous snakes in Florida.

Eastern Coral snakes grow to about two or three feet long and have bright colorful patterns along their bodies. The colors are red, yellow and black. Often, non – venomous Scarlet king snakes are misidentified as coral snakes. Scarlet king snakes have red, yellow, white and black color patterns but they are arranged differently than a coral snake.

To distinguish between the two, imagine a stop light. If red touches yellow, it is a coral snake. Trying to remember a rhyme is not recommended as a way to tell them apart. You can easily get it confused leading to a misidentified snake.

Coral snakes are extremely venomous and a bite will send you to the hospital. Following a bite, pain,numbness and slurred speech are common.

The Cottonmouth

The cottonmouth ( also referred to as water moccasins), are found all throughout Florida. A semi-aquatic pit viper, they are highly venomous and found near or in bodies of water. Large adults can grow up to six feet long.

They are named from the white interior of their mouths. When these snakes sense danger, as a defense mechanism,
they coil their bodies and open their mouths wide.

The best way you can tell the difference between a cottonmouth and a banded water snake is by looking for a large dark facial band of black behind a cottonmouth’s eyes. A banded water does not have this marking. A banded water snake has small dark bands running down its lower jaw. Also, cottonmouths have heat seeking pits, banded water snakes do not.

A bite from a cottonmouth will be extremely painful. Medical care is needed immediately. Their venom is a potent hemotoxin which breaks down red blood cells preventing clotting. Even a small amount of venom can cause significant damage to a finger or toe.

In 2015, a man in Weedville, Elk county Pa died 30 minutes after being bitten by a rattlesnake. The venom from a cottonmouth snake can cause paralysis, stopping your ability to breath.

Staying safe from snakes

The best way to keep yourself from getting bit by a snake is to just leave them alone if you happen to come across one. Most people who are bit, were either handling the snake, or trying to kill it. Snakes want nothing to do with us. Most snakes will try to escape and get away from you rather than bite you. Many snakes will coil themselves into a ring and either shake their tail, or open their mouths wide. Some will also flatten themselves to appear bigger and more terrifying.

Snakes are beneficial to our ecosystems. Silently, they hunt nuisance mice, rats and insects like roaches. In fact, a large majority of a snake’s diet consists of insects.

Like most other wildlife animals, snakes can enter into our lives unexpectedly.

A snake can quietly slither into our home unnoticed. Murphy’s law will make sure you find this snake at the worst possible time and location.

Snakes will seek out water and can end up in your bathroom. Other times, snakes can enter through plumbing lines or swim up into your toilet bowl. Sakes can also end up in our swimming pools.

At Dave’s Pest Control, we know how to identify snakes and can safely remove them if they get into your home or business.

Call us today for a free estimate.

Dan Coffey


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