Florida and its Keys are home to 40 species of native snakes and any number of other snakes that have been introduced into the environment artificially. Six of these species are known to be poisonous. It is important to be able to identify snakes when you encounter them in the wild so you may better gauge the risk of danger and so you can react properly to their presence. Determining whether a snake is venomous or harmless is job No. 1 when in the field. After this fact has been established, you can move into the more detailed work of species identification.
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Examine the snake's head. In all cases but the Eastern Coral Snake, North American snakes with a head that is not significantly larger than their body are nonpoisonous. If the head is larger than the body and has a heart shape, the snake may be poisonous.
Look closely at the eye and body shape of the snake. If the pupils are rounded and the body is thin, the snake is likely nonpoisonous. If the pupils are wide with pointed edges and the body is thick and becomes more slender at the tail, the snake may be poisonous.
Practice recognising the Eastern Coral Snake. Since this is the only venomous snake indigenous to the Florida Keys that does not fit the fat-body and triangular-head profile of a viper, it is important to be able to recognise it on sight. The Eastern Coral Snake most often has strongly coloured rings that run up and down its body in patterns of black, red and yellow. There are some Eastern Coral Snakes in the Florida Keys that are solid colour, so extra precaution must be taken.
Visit the Florida Museum of Natural History online and review the "Florida Snakes Identification" key. This descriptive interactive comparison chart will help you identify and categorise all snakes known to inhabit the Florida Keys and then some. With over 40 species, the minute differences in detail are sometimes hard to discern.
Click the "Color Patterns & Scales Structure" button at the bottom of the "Florida Snakes Identification" key page. The next page will provide this second key to snake identification through their colouring, skin type and shape.
Visit online sites where images and descriptions of the snakes that inhabit the Florida Keys are provided. Pictures of actual snakes can help test your identification skills and provide a real image of what a given snake looks like so you can more easily identify it in the wild.
Tips and warnings
- A rattle at the tail end is a clear indicator that you are dealing with a poisonous snake.
- There are an increasing number of giant pythons found in the Florida Keys. These constrictors enter the ecosystem through artificial means like pet release, and they have a large impact on the balance of nature.
- Always take extra precautions when moving through areas known to house snakes.
- Do not rely on your identification of a snake as nonpoisonous. There is always a chance you are mistaken, and the consequences can be deadly.
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