Nicki Dardinger, Conservancy Director of Education
Snakes are amazing animals. While they are often feared and misunderstood — they are truly unique creatures that serve an important role in the ecosystems of Southwest Florida.
Florida is home to over 50 species of native snakes, only six of which are venomous. And only four venomous species call Southwest Florida home — the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the pygmy rattlesnake, the Eastern coral snake, and the cottonmouth.
Let’s talk about what makes a snake a snake!
First, snakes are reptiles. Like all reptiles their bodies are covered with protective scales. They are also ectotherms, meaning that their body temperature is based on their external environment, rather than maintained by their metabolism. While most snakes lay eggs, others, like the rattlesnakes, give birth to live young. Snakes are also recognized by their lack of limbs, eyelids, and external ears.
You might be thinking….why should I care about snakes? Well…here’s why!
1) Snakes are a natural form of pest control. Is your home free from mice and other rodents? Thank your neighborhood snake! Depending on size and species, an individual snake can eat dozens of mice, rats and other rodents each year.
2) Balance. No, not yoga. Ecosystem balance! As mid-level predators (meaning — they eat other animals, but other animals also eat them!), snakes help to keep the number of prey species from sky-rocketing, and also provide a food source for larger predators such as raptors and coyotes.
3) Diversity isn’t just for people — it’s crucial for nature too! Biodiversity — the number of different animals and plants in an area — is critical for the health of an ecosystem. Having a variety of animals and plants helps to ensure that ecosystems can adjust to disturbances such as hurricanes, floods, and fires. This diversity is also what makes the Earth a habitable planet. Whether it’s an oyster helping to clean water or a tree producing oxygen or a bumblebee pollinating a plant — animals and plants are essential!
What should you do if you find a snake in your yard? Take a picture. Watch it move across the landscape (without legs! Can you do that?!). Admire the pattern of its scales. Give it some space.
What should you NOT do? Kill them.
These animals are often quite shy and usually more scared of people than we are of them. If left alone, they will move along without causing any harm. Even the venomous snakes are unlikely to strike unless provoked, picked up, or stepped on. Snakes are beautiful, fascinating, and IMPORTANT animals; and while we may be frightened of their quick movements and unblinking eyes, they deserve our respect and protection.
Want to meet some of Southwest Florida’s native snakes up close? Visit the Conservancy Nature Center to meet Lola, Sheldon, Leroy, Peaches, and Semi and see for yourself how amazing and beautiful these animals can be.