8250 Collier Blvd, Naples, FL
NAPLES — It could have been a lot worse.
That’s how Robert Brown described getting nicked by a water moccasin Saturday during the Collier County Sheriff’s Office “Kids Love Fishing” event at Florida Sports Park in East Naples.
“It was one of those things,” said Brown, an amateur herpetologist and a Sheriff’s Office sergeant who has worked with snakes for more than 35 years. “If someone had to get bit, it was better that it was me rather than a kid.”
Brown, who was off-duty during Saturday’s event, had been on hand to help the Collier County Junior Deputies League at its Camp Discovery at the Florida Sports Park when he saw a group of kids gathering around what they thought was a non-venomous corn snake.
“I grabbed him, made them safer, and explained that it was a water moccasin,” said Brown, 47. “They got to see what venomous snakes look like and learned not to touch them.”
But the learning experience got a little more real, when the 18-inch male decided he didn’t like being handled.
“He just twisted his head ever so slightly,” said Brown. “It was operator error. They are sneaky that way. He hooked me with a fang.”
Water moccasins, also commonly known as cottonmouths or pit vipers, are venomous snakes that can deliver a painful and potentially fatal hemotoxin in their bite, said Naples Zoo Executive Director David Tetzlaff.
“It basically affects your blood,” said Tetzlaff. “A bite from a pit viper can make you bleed to death internally.”
Realizing that, Brown said he headed south of the park to Physician’s Regional Hospital-Collier Boulevard for treatment after making sure the snake was back in its natural habitat and away from the children.
“They gave me a little anti-venom and let (the wound) drain out,” said Brown, who was still as the hospital as of Monday afternoon.
Brown admitted that he was very lucky, because he could have been bitten by a coral snake — one of Florida’s four venomous snakes — which injects a neurotoxin that causes paralysis and eventually can stop a person’s heart.
The pygmy rattlesnake and the eastern diamondback snake are the two other venomous snake species in Florida, and both deliver hemotoxin in their bites.
“It’s not always the size of the snake, it’s the amount of venom that gets you,” he said.
First introduced to venomous snakes as a Boy Scout in New York, Brown said his love for herpetology — the study of amphibians and reptiles — continued long after his family moved down to Florida.
“I’ve been dealing with venomous snakes for 35 years, and it’s the first time I was bit,” said Brown, adding that his father has been bitten by snakes twice.
As for why the water moccasin got a reprieve, Brown said, the snake was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It was a beautiful snake, so we let him go in a non-populated area,” said Brown. “The snake didn’t do anything wrong.
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