Snakes Alive! New UF Web Site Identifies Snakes In Florida, Southeast U.S.

By:
Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Source(s):
Wayne King kaiman@flmnh.ufl.edu, (352) 392-6573
Bill Cope wdc@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 392-0900

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GAINESVILLE – Homeowners who happen across the occasional dangerous-looking backyard snake and aren’t sure what to do about it can now seek help from a mouse — a computer mouse.

A new University of Florida Web site, “Online Guide to the Snakes of Florida,” is the first of its kind in the nation and features an interactive section that allows people unfamiliar with snakes to easily identify the slithering creatures.

Wayne King, an affiliate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said he developed the site in response to numerous requests from people who think every snake they find in their backyard might be poisonous.

“We receive a lot of calls and e-mails from people all over the Southeast, mostly from folks who know very little about snakes,” said King, who also is curator of herpetology at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. “As a result, the Web site has lots of photographs and no technical terms.”

Of the 45 species of snakes in Florida, only six — the copperhead, cottonmouth, diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and coral snake — are poisonous. King said the majority of inquires he fields concern nonpoisonous snakes, so the guide includes all Florida snakes, many of which have ranges that extend far beyond the state’s borders.

The guide uses a method similar to troubleshooting charts found in appliance manuals. Users pick the best choice from a series descriptive pairs — for example, whether the body of the snake is striped or not striped — to narrow down the alternatives. Finally, a mouse click displays a detailed snake description, including photographs and whether it is poisonous.

King said homeowners can safely relocate snakes using a large plastic garbage can and a broom . But if a homeowner just doesn’t want to deal with a snake, King said the nearest herpetological society can help.

Bill Cope, a member of the Gainesville Herpetological Society, said he will collect snakes of all types that end up where they are not wanted. He asks homeowners to keep them alive and in sight until help can arrive.

That goes hand-in-hand with one goal of the new Web site — helping people learn how to live in peace with their reptilian neighbors.

“We want people to know that snakes are not bad and that most of them serve a useful purpose,” King said. “A lot of snakes, like the rat snake for example, eat rodents.

“The fact is, snakes were here first,” he said. “When we build homes in their habitats, we cannot expect them to go away.”

The guide can be found at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/FL-GUIDE/onlineguide.htm. The Web page also can be accessed from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Web page at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu by clicking on Research and Collections and the clicking on the Reptiles and Amphibians link.

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