Poisonous Plants, Bugs, and Snakes of Florida

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Venomous Snakes

Florida is home to six venomous snakes. The diamond back rattlesnake, canebrake rattlesnake, pigmy rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and the copperhead are all members of the pit viper family. Their venom is haemotoxic, that is, it destroys the red blood cells and the walls of the blood vessels of the victem.

The sixth poisonous snoke of Florida is the coral snake. The coral snake's venom is neurotic, meaning that it attacks the nervous system of a victim, bringing on paralysis.

Here are examples and brief descriptions of the snakes mentioned above: (Descriptions are from myfwc.com)

Diamondback Rattle Snakes
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The eastern diamondback is the largest and most dangerous of our native snakes. It also ranks high on the list of poisonous snakes of the world. Its large body size, quantity of venom, aggressive defensive tactics and tremendous striking speed make this snake one to be treated with extreme caution.

The diamondback is recognized by a distinctive pattern of yellow-bordered diamond-shaped body markings. Brittle, button-shaped segments form a rattling mechanism at the end of the tail. The arrow-shaped head is much wider than the neck.

Found throughout Florida, the diamondback occurs in every county and on many of the coastal islands. It may be encountered in almost any habitat, but most commonly frequents palmetto flatlands, pine woods, abandoned fields, and brushy and grassy areas. In most situations, this snake is difficult to spot since its color pattern blends into the background.

When disturbed the rattler assumes a defensive position with the body coiled upon itself, rattle free and elevated to sound a warning whirr, and head and neck raised in an S-position. From this stance, when the target is close, the rattler can repeatedly deliver its stabbing strike and return to its original position so rapidly that the movements appear only as a blur to the human eye. The effective striking distance is form one-third to more than one-half the length of the snake's body. Recurved fangs or teeth, lying folded inside the roof of the rattler's mouth, are self erecting when the mouth is opened wide during a strike. As the fangs pierce the victim, pressure exerted on the poison sacs extrude venom into the wound. The rattler does not have to be coiled to strike--it can strike from any position and in any direction. When disturbed it generally, but not always, sounds a warning rattle. The diamondback may shed its skin from three to five times a year, depending upon the amount of food it takes in which in turn governs its rate of growth. A segment is added to the rattle at each shedding. Some rattle sections may be broken off as the snake travels about and it is somewhat unusual to find a perfect set. In the light of its irregular rate of adding new rattle segments, it may be concluded that the number of segments in a rattle in no way determines the age of a diamondback.

Although it may attain a body length of over eight feet, it is rare to find a rattler over seven feet long. Rattlesnakes feed on small warm-blooded animals, mainly rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, shrews, and occasionally birds. It gives birth to from 9 to 15 young at a time. Newly born rattlers are equipped with venom and the hollow hypodermic needle fangs to inject it.

Canebrake Rattlesnakes
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The cane brake rattlesnake is restricted mainly to northern Florida but has been reported as far south as Alachua County. This snake is the southern subspecies of the timber rattlesnake found in other portions of the United States.

The canebrake is recognized by its grayish brown or pinkish buff color, with dark bands across its body, orange or rusty-red stripe down the middle of its back, and a brown or black tail which terminates in a rattle. As in other rattlesnakes, the head is much wider than the neck. It is more slender in build than the average diamondback. Florida specimens seldom measure more than five feet in length.

Usually found in the flatwoods, river bottoms and hammocks, the canebrake also occurs in abandoned fields and around farms. During hot weather, it may seek out low swampy ground.

Pygmy Rattlesnakes
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The pygmy rattlesnake, also called ground rattler, is common throughout Florida. It is found in every county and on many of the offshore islands. Its rattle is small and slender and produces a sound like the buzzing of an insect. This warning signal can be heard for no more than a few feet away.

Stout-bodied for so small a snake, it is gray in color and marked prominently with rounded, dusky spots. Starting at base of the head, reddish spots alternate with the black along the midline of the back. Most pygmy rattlers measure less than 18 inches in length.

This species feeds on small frogs, lizards, mice and other snakes. Like other members of the pit-viper family, it does not lay eggs, but gives live birth to live young.

Look for the pygmy rattlesnake in palmetto flatwoods, or in areas of slash pine and wire grass. It may be encountered in almost any locality where there are lakes, ponds, or marshes.

It is fortunate that the ground rattler is small, as it has a feisty disposition, and is quick to strike. Its bite produces pain and swelling which usually subsides in a few days. While its bite could be fatal to humans under certain circumstances, no deaths from the bite of this species have been recorded.

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Florida is the southern extent of the range of the copperhead. At that, sighting it is hardly more than of rare occurrence in a few counties in the northwest portion of the state, notably Liberty and Gadsden counties. A handsome snake, it is pinkish tan in color with reddish-brown crossbands on the body. These bands are wide along the sides and narrow along the back to form something of an hourglass shape. The copper-colored head is wider than the neck. Average length is 30 inches.

Many snakes that are reported to be copperheads turn out to be young cottonmouths which are similar in appearance. So uncommon is this species here that very few bites, and no resulting deaths, have been reported from Florida.

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The cottonmouth moccasin is a pit viper without rattles. It grows to large size, exceeding five feet in length. Most Florida specimens average about three feet. It occurs commonly in every county in the state and on many coastal islands.

Color pattern of the cottonmouth varies form olive-brown to black, with or without dark crossbands on the body. It is stout-bodied with an abruptly tapering tail, and a broad head much wider than the neck. A distinctive mark is a dark band extending from the eye to the rear of the jaw. A drooping mouthline and protective shields overhanging its eyes give it a sullen appearance.

Often when disturbed it draws into a loose coil, cocks its head upwards and opens its mouth wide to reveal the whitish interior lining, hence the name cottonmouth. From this loose-coiled stance, it lunges out in a fast strike to embed its poison-carrying fangs. It usually retains a hold on its prey, chewing in order to drive its fangs deeper into its victim. It does not have to be coiled to strike, but can deliver a bite form almost any position, either in or out of the water. It is an unpredictable snake. Some individuals are calm and sluggish while others may be very aggressive.

A water snake, the cottonmouth is found along stream banks, in swamps, margins of lakes and in tree-bordered marshes. It hunts at night for its prey of fish, frogs, other snakes, lizards and small mammals.

A cottonmouth gives birth to six to 12 young that are born with poison sacs loaded and ready for action. The baby snakes are boldly marked with reddish-brown crossbands and bright yellow tails. At this stage they can be mistaken for copperheads.

During the day, the cottonmouth spends time resting near water, often in a grassy patch, on a pile of debris, in brushy places or in low trees hanging over the water.

The poisonous bite of this reptile results in great pain and severe swelling. With immediate and proper medical treatment, the bite is only occasionally fatal to humans.

Coral Snake
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The coral snake's venom is the most potent of any of North America's snakes. This colorful species is closely related to the notorious cobra, krait, and mamba. The coral is shy and secretive, seldom aggressive unless startled, tormented or hurt. It has short fangs and a small mouth. It does not strike like the pit vipers but bites and chews to inject its poison. Especially vulnerable parts of the human anatomy to coral snake bites are fingers and toes. Most bites occur when a "pretty little snake" is picked up by someone who does not recognize it as a venomous one.

The coral snake is often confused with the harmless scarlet king snake, which it closely resembles. Both snakes are brightly colored with red, black and yellow bands. A helpful rhyme goes, "red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, good for Jack." The red rings of the coral borders the yellow. The red of the king snake borders the black. Also, the coral has a black nose, the king snake a red nose.

The coral snake is a small-sized, slender-bodied reptile with the narrow head and round eye pupils characteristic of non-poisonous species. The largest coral snake on record measured 47 inches, but most specimens are less than 24 inches in length.

Found more or less commonly throughout Florida, the coral inhabits pine woods, pond and lake borders and the jungle-like growth of Florida's hammocks. It favors such places as rotting logs, piles of decaying vegetation, heavy fallen leaf cover and old brush piles.

It noses about through decaying vegetation and humus to catch and feed on other snakes, lizards, frogs and other small animals. The coral snake lays eggs, usually six or less in number that hatch in 60 to 90 days. Young snakes measure from seven to nine inches at hatching, and are patterned and colored like their parents.

The best idea is to try and avoid all snakes. If you are bitten by any snake, seek medical attention immediately.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Poisonous insects and spiders

Fire Ants

I'm sure we've all dealt with fire ants on and off the job. I've lost track of the number of valve lids and boxes that have erupted with fire ants as soon as I touched it.

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Stay alert whenever approaching an area that my harbor fire ants. Wear your gloves and use long screw drivers to open lids. If you see ants, pay attention to where your feet are.

Info about ant stings
The venom of a fire ant bite causes stinging and swells into a bump. They can be very irritating at times, especially when bitten repeatedly by several at once. The bump often forms into a white pustule, which is at risk of becoming infected. The pustules are unattractive and uncomfortable while active and, if the bite sites become infected, can turn into scars. Some people are sensitive to the venom and experience anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment.[2] Signs of anaphylaxis can include dizziness, nausea, sweating, low blood pressure, headache, and shortness of breath. If the fire ants can be brushed off before they inject their venom, pustules will not form. For all victims, immediately applying a solution of half bleach and half water can reduce pain, itching, and pustule formation.[3] An antihistamine or topical corticosteroids may help reduce the itching. Rubbing Aloe Vera juice also reduces itching if applied immediately.

Bees and Wasps

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Bees and wasps deliver a powerful sting. Although a sting can be deadly to some, bees and wasps are generally regarded as non-agressive insects if left alone. The biggest danger with Bees and wasps is the fact that they live in colonies. It the nest or hive is disturbed, multiple stings can be inflicted.

See a doctor immediately If you are stung by bees, wasps, or any venomous insect and you experience any of the following symptoms:
Swelling of the mouth or throat or both, Wheezing, Shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing, Nausea, Vomiting, Anxiety, Chest pain, Low blood pressure, Weakness, or Fainting.


Their are only two types of spiders in Florida that are considered to be dangerous. The widows and the brown recluse.

The primary widow spiders of Florida are the brown widow,
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the Southern black widow,
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and the Northern black widow
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The other species of venomous spider found in Florida is the brown recluse.
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The brown recluse is not considered to be established in Florida although physicians have diagnosed it's bites on patients.

If you think you may have been stung by any of these spiders seek immediate medical attention.

I personally have seen many widow spiders along with their egg cases inside gate valves. Be careful.


Scorpions are flattened, crab-like animals having ten legs and a flesh tail, ending in an enlarged upturned tip which bears a stinger. They vary in size from one to four inches long. They normally live outdoors, though they will invade homes and buildings. Scorpions will sting, but usually only when provoked or disturbed. Scorpion venom is a neurotoxin, but the dose injected usually is insufficient to prove fatal to an adult human. None of the several species of scorpions which occur in Florida is capable of inflicting a lethal sting; however, the site of the sting may be sore and swollen for some time.

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Poisonous Plants

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is the main poisonous plant for us to look out for while in the field.

Here is some general information about Poison Ivy from wikipedia.com:
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans or Rhus toxicodendron) is a plant in the family Anacardiaceae. The name is often spelled "Poison-ivy" to indicate that it is not a true Ivy or Hedera. It is a woody vine that is well-known for its ability to produce urushiol, a skin irritant that causes an itching rash for most people, technically known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis.

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What to look for:

The leaves are compound with three almond-shaped leaflets, giving rise to the mnemonic, "Leaves of three, let it be". The berries (actually drupes) are a grayish-white color and are a favorite winter food of some birds.

The color ranges from light green (usually the younger leaves) to dark green (mature leaves), turning bright red in fall. The leaflets are 3-12 cm long, rarely up to 30 cm. Each leaflet has a few or no teeth along its edge, and the leaf surface is smooth. To compare, blackberry and raspberry leaves also come in threes, but they have many teeth along the leaf edge, and the top surface of their leaves are very wrinkled where the veins are. The stem and vine are brown and woody, while blackberry stems are green with thorns.

What it can do to you

The reaction caused by poison ivy, urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, is an allergic reaction. For this reason some people claim to be "immune" to its "poisonous" effects. However, sensitivity can develop over time. For those who are affected by it, it causes a very irritating rash. If poison ivy is burned and the smoke then inhaled, this rash will appear on the lining of the lungs, causing extreme pain and possibly fatal respiratory difficulty. If poison ivy is eaten, the digestive tract and airways will be affected, in some cases causing death.

Dead poison ivy still has plenty of urushiol and will cause the same effect.

More pictures of poison ivy:
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Poison Oak

Poison oak is less common but can still be encountered anywhere in Northeast Florida. Poison oak is very similar to poison ivy in it's habitat and its effect on the skin.

Atlantic Poison-oak (Toxicodendron pubescens or Rhus pubescens) is an erect shrub that can grow to 1 m (3 ft) tall. The leaves are alternate, with three leaflets on each. The leaflets are usually hairy, and are variable in size and shape, but most often resembling white oak leaves. The leaves are usually 15 cm (6 in) long, turning yellow or orange in autumn. The fruits are small, round, and yellowish or greenish.

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The most important characteristic of both poison oak and poison ivy is the "three-leaf" clusters. If you see a plant that has leaves in groups of three, avoid it.

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac is less widespread than both poison ivy and poison oak. Here's what to look for.

Poison sumac grows as a course woody shrub or small tree and never in the vinelike form of its poison ivy relatives. This plant is also known as swamp sumac, poison elder, poison ash, poison dogwood and thunderwood. It does not have variable forms, such as occur in poison ivy. This shrub is usually associated with swamps and bogs. It grows most commonly along the margin of an area of wet acid soil.

Mature plants range in height from 5 to 6 feet to small trees that may reach 25 feet. Poison sumac shrubs usually do not have a symmetrical treelike appearance. Usually, they lean and have branched stems with about the same diameter from ground level to middle height.

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Keep your eyes open and Be Careful.