Since the beginning of time, humans have been both fascinated and revolted by snakes. However, these remarkable yet much-maligned creatures play an important part to the ecosystem of the US. There are about 50 different species of snakes that call North America home, and while many of them may look scary or dangerous only about 20 are venomous, and even those are normally non-aggressive when left alone.
If you come across a snake and you are not sure if it is venomous, it is best to just leave it alone. Most snakes are not aggressive and unless they are cornered or feel threatened most will flee when approached. Most snake bites occur on the hands and arms from people attempting to catch and pick up a snake.
Do not attempt to handle any snake unless you are sure it is not venomous. You should avoid even touching the carcass of a recently dead snake. For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. A freshly killed venomous snake can have a convulsive contraction and a bite.
While there are 20 or so kinds of venomous snakes in the US, most are subspecies of vipers and pit vipers.
While there are others, there are six common venomous snakes you are most likely to run across while hiking or camping. Five of these six are pit vipers. They are the Diamondback Rattlesnake, Canebrake Rattlesnake, Pigmy Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth (or Water Moccasin), and the Copperhead. The venom of these snakes is called hemotoxic, which means it destroys the red blood cells and the walls of the blood vessels of the victim.
The sixth most common (and deadly) venomous snake belongs to the family Elapidae, and it is represented by the Coral Snake. The venom of Elapidae such as the Coral Snake is a neurotoxin, which attacks the nervous system of a victim, bringing on paralysis.
Identifying Florida’s Venomous Snakes
Again if you are unsure you should never approach any snake, but here is a guide to identifying the six most common species of venomous snakes in the United States.
- Copperhead – is a stout-bodied snake with broad, hourglass shaped light brown to gray crossbands, alternating with dark brown to reddish-brown crossbands. Average adult size is 22-36 inches.
- Cottonmouth – is a thick bodied, dark-colored, snake. The juveniles are brightly colored with reddish-brown crossbands. The dark crossbands contain many dark spots and speckles. As the snake reaches adulthood the bands darken and blend so adults appear to be more uniformly black. Average adult size is 20-48 inches
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake – is a big, large-bodied snake with a row of large dark diamonds with brown centers and cream borders running down its brownish back. And of course there is the distinctive rattle at the end of the tail.
- Timber or Canebrake Rattlesnake – is a big snake but not quite as large as its Diamondback cousin. Instead of the diamond pattern it has a reddish brown stripe running down the center of the back, which is disrupted by large, dark-colored chevron shaped crossbands on a pinkish gray or tan body.
- Pygmy Rattlesnake – is a small snake but thick-bodied for its size. The top of its triangular shaped head is covered with 9 large scales. A longitudinal row of black or charcoal transverse blotches break-up a reddish brown stripe running down the middle of its light to dark gray back. Dark spots on the side line up with the blotches. Average adult size is 12-24 inches.
- Coral Snake – Has a distinctive body ringed with black, yellow, and red bands. Narrower yellow rings separate the wider red and black rings. The rings continue across the belly of the snake. From tip of snout to just behind the eye the head is black. Average adult size is 20-30 inches. There are species of snakes, such as the King Snake, that mimic the bands of the Coral Snake, however, they are in a different order, which has inspired the popular rhyme: Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. Red touches black, a friend of Jack.
Remember bites by venomous snakes are relatively rare, and most can be avoided simply by using good judgment and common sense. However, if you or someone you are with is bitten, the only treatment for venomous snakebites are antivenin.
In the event of a bite, forget what you may have seen in the movies, and seek immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility. Have the victim stay calm, keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart, and if you can, try to let the first responders or medical personal know what kind of snake it was.