Friday, April 12, 2013

Small But Vicious

Pygmy rattlers have been known to bite even after they’re dead. 

Not haunting my dreams just yet, but this recent anxiety I have about rattlesnakes has brought them to mind several times this past week. In the right setting, I might even enjoy looking at snakes as long there is a glass wall between me and them. I’ve visited cobra farms in Thailand to watch the handlers do circus tricks for the tourists, but always from the back row. I have a healthy respect for creatures prone to lunge out with a venomous bite. Never been tempted to look for them in their natural habitat and certainly not pick them up. So why are they on my mind these past few days?

Since my first visit out to the house I will move to soon, I have been imagining pygmy rattlers everywhere. They are the reason I went out and bought a .22 rifle and hightop boots. Everyone I mention these little snakes to says, “Oh, yeah. They’re everywhere in Florida. Especially out where you're going.” Just the other day a friend told about a pygmy rattler biting her daughter when she put a hand down into the laundry basket in their utility room. Okay, I know the little devils are not slithering all over the place and curling up at the doorstep, but a seed has been planted and I've been reading snakebite articles on the Internet for two days. What is my concern exactly?

Sistrurus miliarius, or the pygmy rattler is a venomous pit viper found in the southeastern United States. The Dusky pygmy rattler is one of three species found in the Carolinas, Florida and Mississippi. It is responsible for more snake bites in Florida than any other venomous snake. They inhabit palmetto-pine flatwoods, scrub oak sandhills, mixed forests, roadside ditches and the area near lakes and marshes—good description of my home-to-be. They spend most of their time well-hidden among leaf litter and can be very hard to spot, but are also seen in the summer sunning themselves or crossing the road late in the day. Their prey includes small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs and insects which they ambush from a hiding place among leaves and twigs on the ground.

Most pygmy rattlers are between sixteen and twenty-four inches in length. The young snakes have bright yellow tails. The rattles are tiny and almost invisible even on the adults, and very difficult to hear even when at your feet. If you do hear the rattle, say the experts, it will sound a lot like a buzzing bee. The Dusky pygmy rattler is most common in the Oak Hill area and gray with black blotches down its length, including the underside. A series of vaguely circular black markings distinguish the snake’s back, with an orangish or brick red dotted line running down the center between the black blotches. These snakes do not dig their own burrows, preferring to use those dug my small rodents, or sometimes Gopher tortoises. Often turning up in the backyards of neighborhoods, like other snakes their range of movement increases as the temperature rises.

Despite their small size, most will act like they are twelve feet long and ready to take on anything. Some individuals are very aggressive and will strike furiously, while others seem lethargic and don’t even rattle. But they are surprisingly agile and can strike almost the full length of their own bodies. A pygmy rattler’s fangs are full of poisonous venom, and while its bite is painful and dangerous it is not usually lethal. Too small to kill a human in most cases, its bite will definitely give the victim a very unpleasant several days. Children bitten by a pygmy rattler often require a prolonged hospital stay.


  1. There is nothing small about that second picture in your post today! I wouldn't want to be within 20 feet of that thing. After reading your post and seeing the pictures I think you had better go to the shooting range and ask them to put up pictures of snakes so you can practice. Once thing for sure here won't be anyone sunbathing in your front or back yard.

  2. Snakes? Snakes! Don't talk to me about snakes!


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America