When you go freshwater fishing, you are likely to come across a variety of Florida wildlife on your adventures. More often than not, these wildlife encounters consist of serene experiences such as a great white egret soaring overhead or perhaps a family of red-bellied turtles sitting on a nearby log. However, every once and a while you will come across certain species of Florida wildlife that are best avoided. From alligators to stinging caterpillars, here is a run-down of the Sunshine State critters you should steer clear of.
American alligators are one species of Florida wildlife that plays a very prominent role in the eco-systems of wetlands, swamps, rivers, lakes, ponds, and canal systems. Be aware of the possibility of alligators anytime you are in or near fresh or brackish water, particularly during dawn or dusk, and observe them only from a distance. Dangerous situations or bites can occur when people don’t pay close enough attention to their surroundings while on or near these waterways. In addition, you should know that feeding alligators is against the law. When fed by humans, alligators can overcome their natural wariness around people, and learn to associate people with food. If you go fishing and need to dispose of fish scraps, be sure to do it in garbage cans at boat ramps and fish camps. Do not dispose of fish scraps in the water because doing so will attract alligators and other species of Florida wildlife.
Black bears are the only species of bear found in Florida. If you happen to encounter a bear at close range, stay standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice. Never approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, do not move toward the bear. If you are close to the bear, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route. Keep in mind that black bears can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and are good climbers, so don’t try to outrun a bear or climb a tree.
While Florida does have 44 snake species, the good news is that only six of these reptiles are venomous. Florida’s venomous snakes are the eastern coral snake, the southern copperhead, the cottonmouth, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, and the dusky pygmy rattlesnake. Most Florida snakes are harmless and help to reduce excess rodent populations. Even Florida’s venomous snake species are not particularly dangerous unless they are stepped on or otherwise provoked. If you find a snake, just leave it alone. If you or someone else does happen to get bit by a venomous snake, the only acceptable treatment involves the use of antivenom. Stay calm, remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart, and immediately seek medical attention. Your most important aids in getting to a hospital for treatment may very well be your car keys or a cell phone.
Florida panthers normally live in remote, undeveloped areas in South Florida. They are fairly reclusive and primarily move at night. However, as the population grows, the may be increased chances of an encounter. Florida panthers will typically avoid a confrontation, but you should always be alert. If you do encounter a panther, give it ample room to escape and do not attempt to run. Running may stimulate a panther’s instinct to chase, so it’s best to stand and face the animal. When planning any outdoor adventure, it’s a good practice to let friends or family know your whereabouts and when you expect to return. Better yet, take a friend with you.
Five species of venomous spiders occur in Florida: the southern black widow, northern black widow, red widow, brown widow and brown recluse. Most of these spiders like to take up residence in or under objects where their presence isn’t obvious, such as in rotted logs or piles of firewood. Anyone bitten by a spider should preserve it in rubbing alcohol for positive identification. Most spider bites are not considered dangerous, but if you suspect one of the widow or brown recluse spiders, get medical attention immediately.
Florida has three species of scorpions, although none of them produce a fatal sting, a scorpion sting can be more painful than a wasp sting. The three species are the slender brown scorpion (also known as the Florida bark scorpion), the Hentz striped scorpion, and the Guiana striped scorpion (found only around Collier, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties). These arachnids rarely sting humans except when pinned against the skin. The skin near the site of the sting may get sore and swollen. There is antivenom available for severe reactions to scorpion stings, so medical attention is always a good idea.
These invasive pests build large nests in the form of visible dirt mounds on the ground, around trees and stumps, and pretty much anywhere else. Keep an eye out for their nests and avoid stepping on them. They are notorious for their painful, burning stings that result in pustules along with intense burning or itching — lovely, right? These symptoms can persist for up to ten days. If the pustules are broken, infections may occur. Certain people even have allergic reactions to fire ant stings.
These small arachnids can be found throughout the year. Ticks in either adult or nymph stage can transmit diseases, so quick removal of ticks and prevention of tick bites are both equally important. Florida has populations of brown dog ticks, American dog ticks, Lone Star ticks, Gulf Coast ticks, and black-legged ticks (black-legged ticks are carriers of Lyme Disease). Ticks must feed for several hours to transmit disease, so quick identification and removal is key. To remove a tick, grasp it with tweezers and pull it straight out with firm pressure. In tick-infested areas, keep clothing buttoned up and tucked in, including placing pant legs inside of your boots. In addition, be sure to apply repellents to uncovered skin.
Chiggers are larvae of mites that are mostly found in low, damp areas with heavy vegetation. They are often most abundant in areas covered with shrubs and small trees. If you are going into an area suspected of being infested with chiggers, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent. Repellent should be applied to the legs, ankles, cuffs, waist, and sleeves of clothing. In humans, chiggers can cause intense itching and small reddish welts on the skin. The intense irritation and subsequent scratching can result in secondary infection. In other parts of the world, chiggers transmit scrub typhus; however, in Florida they are not known to transmit any human disease agent.
Florida has four major stinging caterpillars (puss caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar, Io moth caterpillar and hag caterpillar), along with a few less common species (buck moth caterpillar, spiny oak-slug caterpillar, flannel moth caterpillar). These caterpillars don’t actually possess stingers, but do have spines that are connected to poison glands. Some people experience severe reactions to the poison released by the spines and require medical attention, while others experience only an itching or burning sensation. To remove spines, place clear tape over the affected area and strip off repeatedly. Apply ice packs to reduce the stinging sensation, and follow with a paste of baking soda and water. If an allergic reaction develops, contact a physician immediately.
Have you ever gone fishing and come across any Florida wildlife that you avoided? Are there any other wildlife species you avoid when spending time outdoors? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, head on over to the Shefishes2 Facebook Page and share your comments.