It was late spring 1974, Tallahassee Florida. I was a ruddy, skinny kid they called smiley, always grubbing about looking for whatever trouble I could get into. I was in middle school when my mother came home to tell me I would be going to summer school, I responded like any kid who gets told that right before the most glorious time of year. Uuuugggg! Who wants to go to summer school? Then she informed me that it would be SNAKE SCHOOL… Snake school? Yep, my summer would be spent at FSU learning about reptiles and amphibians. How cool is that? We spent Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the field collecting snakes for the university and getting hands on lessons, on Tuesday and Thursday we were in class rooms learning the biology aspects of reptiles, amphibians, and birds. The final exam was around 200 preserved snakes on a table and a blank sheet to write the names down. This was in the mid 70s and it was a different era. We were all over the Tallahassee area turning over boards, walking along ditches, and wading in rivers up to our necks catching snakes off branches. Back then alligators were on the endangered species list and not too frequent. Jumping into the water to catch a fleeing water snake was no big deal. Today I would think twice before jumping into any body of water in Florida, we have gators in almost every pond. In the class we were taught not only how to identify all the diverse species found in Florida but where to find them and how to catch them.
Over the next 4 summers we took trips to Saint Marks, Saint George Island, South Texas, and the Everglades. Saint Marks is just South of Tallahassee and provided ample areas to find snakes. Two people were bit that year by venomous snakes. One was a pigmy Rattle snake through someone’s boat shoes (that’s why I wear snake boots.) They flipped a board and saw the snake, then they stepped on it to prevent escape. The snake reached around and bit the person’s toe. The other was a mistaken identification. As we walked down a dirt road we found some tracks from a snake crossing in the sand. When the person found the snake in a small bush next to the road he quickly grabbed the snake by the head… it was a cotton mouth. As he grabbed the head the snake opened its mouth to show warning and the guy smashed a fang into his finger. We waited 45 min to get picked up by our ride and it was an hour to the hospital. He had no ill effects, a hard lesson learned. Look twice and ID what you are picking up. Treat the end with teeth with respect. I have been catching snakes and wildlife most of my life and have a fond appreciation for wild life. So when you see me in videos out catching snakes know that I have been doing this for over 40 years. Back in the 80s and 90s we would often sell or donate the venomous snakes to Gatorland or the serpentarium. I have caught most every type of venomous snake in Florida, but as of yet I have not been bitten… except by non venomous snakes.
I always get a kick out of peoples stories who tell of snakes crossing the road and being 8 feet long. The Eastern diamond back is the largest rattlesnake species and is the heaviest known type of venomous snake, with one specimen shot in 1946 measuring 7.8 ft (2.4 m) in length and weighing 15.4 kg (34 lb) Not 8 feet long, but the skin could stretch beyond that after its cured. Specimens over 7 ft (2.1 m) are rare, but well documented. The average size is much less. Specimens are rarely found under 1 foot in length. More often 3.5 to 5.5 ft. This is a beautiful snake with a long strike range so stay clear, when threatened, they raise the anterior half of their bodies off the ground in an S-shaped coil, and can strike to a distance of at least a third of their body length. Big rattle snakes are rare, but today sadly there are evasive species of snakes in the Everglades that can reach great lengths. There has been a huge 16-foot, 10-inch python caught in the Florida Everglades by a snake hunter. So stories of snakes stretching from one side of the road to the other can now be true in Florida.
Stay safe my friends and threat nature with respect, sometimes you life may depend on it.
Matt N Randy
Jeep Enthusiast, Pastor, Photographer, Artist, A husband and wife team that loves going out and seeing God's Creations.