It would be nice to believe that everyone had enough common sense to know not to play with the local wildlife, but sadly, and often tragically, that is not the case. What used to be common sense is no longer quite so common, and a quick search of YouTube will reveal people placing their young children on the backs of wild animals, including large, aggressive bison weighing more than their vehicle.
In Florida, most notably in the swamps of the Everglades, the Okefenokee, and around the many different forests, wetlands, and lakes, wild animals can create havoc. The same person who will chide someone for fishing near the edge of the lake where gators are present, will laugh and record the incidents where their tiny lap dogs are “fending off” a sunning gator trying to relax after a large meal.
In a perfect world, logic and reason would rule the day, and Darwin would be left to cleanse the gene pool, there is no such thing as a perfect world. Fortunately, there are still a large number of cautious people living in Florida, and while they may know about the obvious dangers of the previous examples, they may remain unaware of the hidden dangers of wildlife in Florida.
In Florida it is very common to have animals in close proximity to homes, even in the heart of the big cities. Squirrels and raccoon are common enough, with the occasional possum being seen as well. From time to time there may even be a passing armadillo, or one curled up into a tight little ball that makes people think it is harmless.
The real danger however, is that underneath their cute and often furry exteriors, much of the wildlife in Florida has diseases or can transmit diseases that are deadly without immediate medical care. In this article we will look at some of the wildlife in the forests and swamps of Florida, and the diseases that they carry.
What is the Difference Between a Coral Snake and a King Snake
Normally snakes would fall under the common sense category of avoidance, but there are many unique features about the coral snake that merit it being included in this list. Some people are under the impression that if a snake does not have fangs, it is not poisonous. The coral snake proves this is not always the case, and is in fact, one of the deadliest and most venomous snakes in North America.
Granted, the coral snake must be able to bite a soft spot, as it does not have fangs, though generally the soft skin between the fingers will work just fine. The coral snake also happens to bear a striking resemblance to the king snake, a non-venomous snake also common in Florida.
In order to differentiate the twain, there are many common ditties, this one being paraphrased; “Red to black is a friend to Jack. Red to yellow will kill a fellow.” If someone is bitten by a coral snake, seek immediate emergency care and do not move them unless it is absolutely necessary.
Why Are Opossums in Florida Dangerous?
One of the most common cries heard when people see a wild animal is “RABIES!”, and while that is a concern, it is not by any stretch the most pressing disease transmitted by wild animals in Florida. Possums can cover a lot of ground over the course of their lifetime, though generally within walking distance for the average human. If you see the opossum, you may want to seriously consider a medical checkup in addition to calling animal control and getting rid of or moving the local population.
Opossums can transmit many diseases through physical contact including rabies, but their urine and feces material also contain contaminants and pathogens that can transmit diseases to a human population. Common diseases transmitted to humans and animals by opossums are salmonella, tuberculosis, leptospirosis, and toxoplasmosis.
The transmission of diseases to humans by opossums need not come from direct contact with the opossum or even its waste, but can also be transmitted by insects that have come into contact with both. The most common insects to transmit diseases between animals and humans in Florida are fleas, ticks, lice, and mosquitoes.
Are There Wild Monkeys in Florida?
The short answer is yes, though they are not native or indigenous to Florida. Silver Spring State Park is home to a large number of Spider Macaque monkeys, and many more have now migrated across the State, including a large population of monkeys living in the Everglades in South Florida.
The monkeys are dangerous as they carry numerous diseases that may be fatal to humans, and transmission can occur in a number of different ways. The most common diseases that can be spread by bites and a transfer of saliva are rabies of course, and the herpes B virus. The herpes B virus is also known as macacine alphaherpesvirus, herpesvirus simiae, or Herpes virus B.
It should also be noted that monkeys live in large social groups and are territorial and will fight to defend their territories, including throwing feces that may transmit diseases, and throwing rocks and beating intruders with branches which can lead to broken bones and other serious injuries.
Are Florida Squirrels Dangerous to People?
Squirrels are another variety of “cute and fuzzy in Florida” and it can be tempting, especially when young squirrels are discovered, or a wounded squirrel is found lying around a home.
While the squirrels in Florida can pose some risks to household pets, primarily dogs who may hunt and eat them, or cats who may kill them for food, or for sport, bringing them back home as trophies to be shared, the focus will remain on the medical risks of squirrels for humans.
Humans can contract diseases from the squirrels by bites, or by direct contact in some cases, and also through transmission by lice, ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, or contact from the waste of the squirrel. The most common diseases people can catch from squirrels include the plague, tularemia, typhus, and ringworm.
Are Raccoons in Florida Dangerous to Humans?
Raccoons are another Florida wild animal that some people think is all cute and fuzzy, but a full-grown raccoon can be extremely vicious, even killing large dogs. Raccoons tend to like shiny things, and tend to eat around an accessible water source as they do not have saliva glands and cannot produce spittle to aid in swallowing their foods.
Raccoons can transmit many different diseases to humans in much the same way as the squirrels and opossums. While the complete list is rather long, the most common diseases transmitted to humans by raccoons are cruzi, giardia lamblia, trypanosoma, rickettsia rickettsii, leptospirosis, listeriosis, salmonella, tetanus, and tularemia.
What is the Most Foul Fowl in Florida?
Okay, granted that many of the birds discussed in this section are not even fowl, but they can be foul, and that can be dangerous to the person who is unaware of the diseases that birds can carry and transmit to humans.
Peacocks are a popular Florida attraction, as are the Pink Flamingos. Lots of people love feeding the pigeons at the park, or teasing the seagulls at the beach, trying to feed the birds in the air as they swoop in gracefully to pluck those french fries out from between greasy fingers at the beach. Yeah? Well it was just a little bite after all, and it came from a bird, so there probably was not even any saliva right?
The bird populations in Florida are surprisingly adept at transmitting diseases and the underlying pathogens into the human population through a number of venues. How many people wash the bird waste off their car before grabbing the door handle? Did you have an open cut when you touched the waste?
All told, there are approximately 60 diseases that birds can pass on to humans, many of them quite deadly, and far too many to list in any single article. These diseases are generally contracted through bites, direct contact with the birds or their waste, through bugs that literally “bug” humans as much as they bug the birds, and occasionally, even through consumption of the birds by humans.
If you insist on feeding birds, try to avoid direct contact, even if it does make a great video for your tiktok account. This theory however, holds true for most wildlife. There is a semi-famous sign in Florida that notes dangerous wildlife is created by humans. It is illegal to feed the wildlife in many places for a good reason.
Enjoying wildlife is a favorite pastime in Florida, and not without just cause. But remember that it is going to be exceptionally difficult to enjoy the scenery from an emergency room or even most long-term care hospital beds.
At Advanced Health Care in Boca Raton, we want to help ensure that you have a long and healthy life to enjoy whatever it is you do, but we are always here and ready to help when things do not go right, and you find yourself in need of Advanced Health Care in South Florida.