Nelson Giraldo’s backyard has been taken over by cottonmouth snakes.
The venomous reptiles have hid underneath his barbecue grill, behind his air-conditioning unit and near the banana tree in his Miramar yard.
“They’ve become more aggressive, too. The last three weeks I’ve had to kill three,” said Giraldo, who lives in Silver Isles.
Snakes have been terrorizing western neighborhoods in recent weeks, pushed out by heavy rains. The problem is particularly acute in Miramar and Pembroke Pines, where residents have taken to social media sites to share their experiences.
They’ve posted snapshots of snakes, looking for help in identifying them as either venomous or non-venomous, and have used the sites to warn each other. They’ve also posted the number for the Venom Response Unit, a part of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department that travels to Broward and Palm Beach counties when necessary.
Dewey Johnson recently pushed his canoe out onto the canal behind his house near the Miramar Regional Park, expecting an uneventful ride. Then the snakes came.
First one swam towards him, then another, and another. Soon there were at least a half dozen snakes following him.
“We knew it would get to this, that we’d see more snakes this year because of the flooding,” Johnson said. “I told my wife it would be only a matter of time.’’
It is unclear how widespread the problem is because there isn’t a single agency that collects data on snake-related calls. Police departments often respond, but most lump such calls with other animal calls.
The Miami-Dade unit has visited Miramar and Pembroke Pines frequently in recent weeks.
“In June and July, we were going out once every four days. We certainly had more calls out to those areas than in previous years,” said Miami-Dade Fire Lt. Lisa Wood.
She said most snakes slither away before the unit arrives, but “we caught six in a three or four week period.”
The unit releases the snakes in a “safe environment away from people,” Wood said.
The problem first began with the start of the rainy season in April. It got worse with the heavy rains in early June that caused flooding throughout the region. On one day, a low-pressure system dumped almost 10 inches of rain on parts of Broward County.
“Florida in general has more snakes than any other state, so anywhere you go you will find them,” said Coleman Sheehy, with the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Division of Herpetology. “They’ve always been around us; it’s not that their numbers have suddenly increased.”
It’s just that the rainfall pushed the snakes, whose natural habitat is near water, closer to homes, he said.
Pembroke Pines resident Vanessa Reyes warned her family in June to be careful after she read dozens of posts by her neighbors on Facebook.
Days later, her 6-year-old son screamed “snake” from the front yard. Reyes’ husband called the Venom Response Unit, which caught the reptile and confirmed it was a poisonous cottonmouth.
“I’ve been here for three years, never saw a snake around here before. But this year, I have many neighbors who have seen them,” said Reyes, who lives in the Cobblestone neighborhood.
Some people have taken matters into their own hands, killing snakes with shovels or rakes or machetes, while others hope that repellents will force them away.
A neighbor suggested to Reyes that she buy mothballs and cat litter.
“I was willing to try anything,” she said.
IF YOU SEE A SNAKE
— Remove debris or other accumulations from around the house;
— Always wear shoes outside, and protective gloves and shoes when working outside;
— Avoid placing hands in areas that are hidden or concealed;
— Look before sitting, stepping or reaching near or around rocks or logs;
— Don’t attempt to catch or kill a snake unless it poses an imminent threat to someone or a pet;
— If bitten, immediately call 911, remain calm, immobilize the bitten area and safely try to observe the snake’s identifying traits, such as colors, patterns and size.
Source: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department