I’m heading west across the Everglades tonight. As the sun sets, an ochre skyline seems to reflect a washboard, sandbar at low tide. It’s hard not to be hypnotized by the patterns of grey and orange bands of clouds. Out of the corner of my eye I see an s-shaped piece of tire on the roadside. And then another. And another. These are not pieces of spent rubber….they’re snakes.
I slow from 70 mph, ride the rumble strip and gently pull off the pavement. A snake can be seen in my rear view mirror. Another can be seen ahead of me through the windshield.
I park, grab my camera and make my way through the quickly dimming light. Every few seconds the roadside is illuminated by a passing vehicle and I am blasted by bits of asphalt and hot air. These snakes are trying to cross. They have no chance. The one directly in front of me is dead. Its head is flattened. I take picture after picture as I near the gently curved, stocky four foot snake. I lean in to take a close up when the “dead” snake flails itself sideways in my direction. The movement is fast and unexpected. I fall backwards and just as quickly get up. I thought this Florida Green Water Snake (Nerodia cyclopion floridiana) was flattened by a vehicle but it was mimicking the broad, triangular shape of a pit viper.
My heart racing, I look around in the grass for other snakes attempting to cross the road. These snakes have nasty dispositions. Not only will they bite when handled, they can give harsh lacerations. They aren’t venomous, but I don’t want to be bitten.
The piscivorous Green Water Snake is relatively common in Florida and is often found near the water’s edge. They are known to drop into the canoes of terrified boaters. Cottonmouths usually get the blame. They’re not attacking; they are just trying to escape.
The recent and rare winter rain has prompted this migration, but this species lacks the speed to navigate four lanes of traffic. I’ve helped turtles cross this section of road before, but I don’t have the skill or bravado to help move these snakes. I spook a few off the road. My hope is that they recognize the danger and slither back into the marsh. The alternative is a nasty death.