Viral video captured a rattlesnake under a Tampa Bay bridge. How rare is that?
Capt. Brett Norris was driving his boat the morning of Oct. 27 when, as he neared the underside of the bridge, a flash of snakeskin caught his eye. An eastern diamondback rattlesnake was curled on a railing about three feet off the water. Its rattle was raised in the air, warning the crew not to come any closer.
Two Florida snake experts with decades of shared experience both agree: It was an uncommon sighting. But with diamondbacks native to Florida and residing in all 67 counties, it’s also not terribly surprising, they said in interviews. The animals were here long before us, after all.
“It’s definitely not common, but it’s likely a snake that dispersed from a nearby landmass and is taking a break,” said Melissa Miller, an assistant research scientist at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “It’s a cool sighting, nonetheless. When you go fishing, you’re not expecting to see a diamondback out in the wild.”
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes prefer terrestrial environments like Weedon Island in Tampa Bay. They’re also incredible swimmers, according to Miller. Anglers have reported seeing the snakes 10 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. And when they get tired, they coil up, inflate themselves with air and bob along in the water like a cork.
“They’re extremely good swimmers, and saltwater isn’t a problem for them,” said Kevin Enge, a research herpetologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He’s studied snakes for more than three decades, and believes this particular animal was swimming offshore of Tierra Verde during high tide when water levels were elevated. It probably got tired and found the nearby platform under the bridge. When the water dropped with an outgoing tide, the animal probably became stuck, not willing to make the 3-foot free fall into the water below
The Eastern diamondback is one of six venomous snake species native to Florida. Their population here and among most of its southeastern range is starting to decline, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.