John Bartus

Many of us live in Florida because, let’s face it, we’re certainly one of the more interesting states in this here Union. We are the land bridge between the Deep South and the Tropics, the temperate and the humid, the forest and the jungle. We have citrus groves, mangrove swamps, palm trees — we have the friggin’ Everglades, for Pete’s sake! (And just who is this Pete character, anyway?)

A valuable part of all this Florida Great Outdoors is the Fabulous Florida Wildlife! We have critters they have in other states … and we have a lot of critters they don’t have! And it’s all fun and games until someone gets a little too close to the wildlife.

We all remember this past week hearing about the close wildlife encounter right here in the Keys: A 30-year-old snorkeler, Andrew Eddy from Atlanta, was attacked by a 10-foot bull shark while exploring the reef with his family at Sombrero Key Light on Sunday. According to reports, he had just jumped in the water when he was bitten on the shoulder by the shark.

Photos circulating on social media showed how bad Mr. Eddy’s shoulder looked after the attack — he’s lucky the shark didn’t want more. And sharks rarely attack humans, although I’m sure that’s not much consolation to Mr. Eddy. But shark attacks do happen, and Florida is by far the state with the most shark attacks, Hawaii being a distant second. 

There was another “shark attack” in Marathon several years ago, and a visitor had to be taken from the waters off Marathon to Fishermen’s Hospital with a nurse shark attached to his chest. It seems that this uneducated visitor thought that the continued harassing of the shark was a really fun underwater activity. The shark thought otherwise and “attached” itself to the gentleman’s chest. Sadly, the shark lost its life as it eventually had to be… um, “removed” from the ignorant visitor.

Florida offers more than just sharks, however! Large reptiles populate the Sunshine State in numbers and variety of species that no other state can touch. Let’s take iguanas, the large lizard that makes a pest out of itself wherever one or more show up. Pity the poor Amanda Gray, a Southwest Florida woman whose pet iguana named “Igmo” attacked her not once, but twice. According to WPTV, Gray said, “She’s like my baby. She used to sleep in my bra when she was little.” 

Sadly, the iguana’s attitude turned toward the Dark Side. Now scars from Igmo’s sharp nails cover Amanda’s arms and now her face. The most recent attack sent her to the hospital. “It was a serious facial injury. I started pouring blood all over the place and screaming for help,” said Gray. She did find a new owner for Igmo.

Let’s go a little larger. The American alligator has been known to be aggressive toward humans, and every year a number of Florida residents and visitors discover this firsthand. Just this year, a 27-year-old woman had been trimming trees near the water in North Fort Myers when a 10-foot alligator ambushed her, sending her to the hospital with injuries to both legs. And a professional marine life artist out walking his dog was attacked by an alligator over eight feet long, sending him to the hospital with serious leg injuries. But the artist is undaunted: he plans to paint his mental image of the gator with his pearly white teeth sunk deep into the artist’s leg. That would look really nice over someone’s mantel.

Even an apex predator like the alligator isn’t immune from attack. With the abundance of huge pythons in the Everglades, the stories of snakes eating gators have become common. In 2018, a professional python trapper found a 10-foot serpent trying to eat a 4-foot alligator. Needless to say, the python trapper freed the gator and went home with a python. It was the third gator he’d freed that year.

And those pythons can be greedy. Fifteen years ago, National Park officers in the Everglades came upon a seriously disturbing sight: a 13-foot python that literally exploded while trying to eat a 6-foot alligator. It was just like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” — “It’s only wafer thin.” And then boom.

One type of wildlife that Florida shares with other states is the bear. Bears are notorious for their amusing interactions with humans. And bears love swimming pools. There was the recent viral video of the Massachusetts man sleeping by the pool who was awakened by a bear. There are lots of other videos on YouTube that show bears enjoying swimming pools in Florida. 

If there is a lesson to all this, it’s this: it’s called wildlife for a reason. Alligators, pythons and iguanas just might not make the best pets. And if you find a bear in your pool, don’t hand him the sunscreen — toss it safely from inside the house.

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