Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and pygmy rattlesnakes are native to the west coast of Florida and are common residents of the hammock scrub lands (areas that are often higher than the surrounding land with humus rich soil and hardwood trees including oaks, sweetgums, hickories, and palms) and mangroves surrounding Harbor Isle. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake has frequented the Tampa Bay area for centuries. I once read of an early Oyster House on Westshore Boulevard in the 1900s where the patrons would sit outside at tables and listen to the rattling in the surrounding bushes from the numerous snakes.
In my 33 years as a Harbor Isle resident, we have never had any serious issues with rattlesnakes - until recently. Three dogs were killed by diamondback rattlesnakes in Harbor Isle approximately one week apart. Oddly enough, the two separate incidents both involved owners throwing frisbees to the dogs. In one incident the frisbee landed on the diamondback rattlesnake, as the dog ran to retrieve the frisbee it was promptly bitten. The second incident involved a frisbee that was accidently thrown into a crawlspace. Both of the dogs involved in the incident were bitten as they ran to get the frisbee out of the crawlspace. These dog fatalities were the first such incidents involving the eastern diamondback rattlesnake in Harbor Isle that I can recall.
There was a single episode in the last year involving a human, a landscaper, who was bitten by a rattlesnake while gardening. Unlike the prior incidents involving the dogs, this was not a fatal incident and the landscaper made a full recovery. These incidents understandably heightened our community’s awareness of the presence in Harbor Isle of rattlesnakes in the neighborhood
My personal experience with a diamondback rattlesnake occurred approximately 15 years ago. I was walking down my hallway in bare feet in pursuit of a drink from the refrigerator in my garage. As I opened the refrigerator door I heard that distinctive rattle that only a rattlesnake can make. I froze and looked down, and to my dismay there was an approximately 6’ foot eastern diamondback rattlesnake in my garage coiled and ready to strike. I immediately shut the door to the garage and went back into the house to decide on my next plan of action. After putting on a pair of high-top shoes, I proceeded back into the garage cautiously, the snake was still coiled on the floor. My fishing landing net was conveniently nearby – so I grabbed the net and proceeded to trap the snake. I then grabbed a large board that was in the garage and through various maneuvers managed to push the snake out of the garage into my driveway. All the while this snake was attempting to strike while trapped in my landing net. Thankfully it was contained by my trusty landing net.
I was able to locate a snake removal service in St. Petersburg and promptly called the number. By this time the commotion in my driveway attracted the attention of several neighborhood kids (who wouldn’t be interested in someone with a 6’ rattlesnake in a fishing net?) as well as my two daughters.
The snake removal pickup truck arrived in dramatic fashion with a large cage on the back that said “Tigers.” A large shirtless heavyset man wearing white boots and NO GLOVES got out of the truck and proceeded up the driveway. Without any preliminaries he immediately bent over and grabbed the rattlesnake by the neck with his bare hands. To his credit and to add to the “mystique,” he appeared to be more concerned about damage to my landing net than a possible snakebite. (Accompanying picture shows the actual event).
After he carefully extracted the snake from the net, he promptly handed the undamaged landing net to me, and unceremoniously put the snake in a bag. In those days there appears to have been no charge for this service but I slipped him a $20 bill before he headed down the driveway, got into his truck with the “tiger” cage and drove off into the sunset. I told our audience of neighborhood kids that had gathered “Do not try this at home!”
After the immediate crisis was over, my next task was to ascertain how the snake ended up in my garage and proceeded to question my daughters. Sure enough, they apparently had left the garage door open all day the previous day, an open invitation for a snake to come in at that time. One of my other neighbors said it was most likely looking for a cool place to give birth to its babies.
A similar garage incident occurred on my street several years ago with a very aggressive diamondback rattlesnake who made its way into a neighbor’s garage. This neighbor used a different technique, dispatching it with a single gunshot to the head within the garage. This “technique” of disposal is not one I would recommend. The next day the snake was skinned and served as rattlesnake dip at a neighborhood Christmas party!
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the longest and heaviest snake in North America. Adults measure between 3 and 6 feet in length and is recognized both by its diamond shaped patten on its back and its diamond-shaped head. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is known for its rattle and its venom and can be toxic to humans. However, antivenom is available in Pinellas County, and fatalities from diamondback rattlesnakes are rare. Despite their impressive size, distinctive coloring and reputation, these reptiles are actually shy and tend to avoid humans. The three dog fatalities mentioned above were not due to any aggressiveness on the part of the rattlesnake, but were all related to frisbees being thrown either on or near the snakes and retrieved by the canines.
One unique fact, unlike most snakes, the eastern diamondback rattlesnakes can swim and can even cross the bay waters. I had a friend living in Venetian Isles who saw a large six-foot diamond back rattlesnake trying to swim up his seawall. He dispatched this serpent with a fishing gaffe while standing on his dock.
Rattlesnake habitat is generally brushy scrubland that is adjacent to wetlands as they prefer overgrown areas. The best way to avoid rattlesnakes in your yard is to clear out any brush piles or brush areas, as well as any overgrown areas. They do not like the vulnerability of being exposed out in open areas. They do have natural predators such as redtail hawks and other snakes such as kingsnakes. The diamondback rattlesnake is especially vulnerable to hawks when in open areas. Generally, the diamondback rattlesnake is solitary in nature but does pair up during mating season. The females generally give birth in April or May to anywhere between 6-21 snakelets (baby snakes) which are born live. They frequently look for cooler spaces (LIKE MY GARAGE!) to give birth. In nature, the snake is likely to give birth in a burrow or hollow log. They frequently like to inhabit gopher tortoise burrows, logs or stumps. Diamondback rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and therefore less active in the winter. Their lifespan can extend beyond 20 years (Fun fact: You can tell how old a rattlesnake is by the number of segments on its rattle. Rattlesnakes get a new segment each time they shed their skin. Unlike the rest of the skin, the section that covers the very end of the rattle doesn’t fall off.)
The smaller cousin of the diamondback rattlesnake, the Pygmy rattlesnake, is a frequent inhabitant of Harbor Isle. This is the smallest venomous snake in Florida, measuring approximately 1-2 feet at its maximum length. This rattlesnake also prefers hammock scrub lands but in particular it especially likes urban areas like suburban yards and golf courses. This unfortunately makes it a frequently encountered snake in Harbor Isle. Unlike the diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnakes are aggressive and if approached, will strike freely. The pygmy rattlesnakes rattle is very small and barely audible, making it difficult to hear. It also has the diamond-shaped head typical of venomous snakes. Their diet consists predominantly of lizards and frogs. Although the pygmy rattlesnake is one of the most venomous prolific snakes in Florida, there has never been a recorded fatality from a pygmy rattlesnake bite.
My first-hand encounter with a pygmy rattlesnake occurred one day as I was coming home from work. I walked up my sidewalk and noticed a coiled pygmy rattlesnake right on our welcome mat – Welcome to Florida! Once again, I went to my garage, grabbed my trusty rattlesnake wrangler (better known as my fishing landing net) and was able to corral the snake into the landing net then releasing it in the scrub hammock across the street.
In summary, most all venomous snakes have a diamond-shaped head whereas nonvenomous snakes have a rounded head. Unfortunately, in order to determine the head shape, one must get fairly close to the snake. I do not advise getting close to make that particular determination. In the case of the rattlesnake, the pattern is so distinctive identification is easily made at a distance! Despite the risk to humans, rattlesnake bites remain rare and they are just a part of the natural habitat that residents in Harbor Isle have been accustomed to and privileged to live with!
If you encounter a diamondback rattlesnake, they are generally shy and will move out of the way unless they are cornered. I would recommend slowly walking in the other direction or circumventing the snake if you encounter it. The pygmy rattlesnake as mentioned previously is more aggressive and smaller and it should also be avoided but because of its small size it is usually only discovered at the last minute. There are several snake removal services in Pinellas County that can be called:
1. Wildlife Control
Open 24 hours · (727) 219-9061
2. Saint Petersburg Wildlife Control
3395 62nd Avenue, N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
3. Quick Wildlife Removal Expert
9800 4th Street, N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
4. Alford Wildlife and Pest Management
2840 Scherer Drive, Suite 460
St. Petersburg, FL 33716
Updated: My next door neighbor called me one day while I was working (my practice is at my home) screaming that she had a 6-foot diamondback rattlesnake on our pool deck that was attempting to kill a rat. I immediately responded “That’s a good thing!” and simultaneously wondered, why does everyone call me for this?
At the time, however, I was too busy with patient care to help with the situation (with my trusty rattlesnake wrangler), however, I have a personal assistant, Ann, who has an extremely wide-range of unique skills. I therefore asked my assistant if she would like to help my other neighbor Ralph dispatch a large rattlesnake on a pool deck. 99% of all personal assistants would of course immediately refuse this request and probably respond “I quit,” however, for my assistant, this was a normal day’s activity and she and my neighbor Ralph acquired a shovel from the garage and went out and killed the rattlesnake on the pool deck. I however would always recommend to let professionals handle problem snakes.