An 18-year-old Wimauma man is recovering at Tampa General Hospital after he was bitten on the lip by a cottonmouth he was keeping in a pillowcase on his bed, officials said.
The snake, also known as a water moccasin, escaped from the pillowcase at about 11:45 p.m. Saturday and slithered across the stomach of Austin Lane Hatfield, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. When Hatfield tried to recapture it, the snake bit him, Morse said.
A bite from a cottonmouth can be deadly; its venom usually causes massive swelling.
Hatfield was rushed to the emergency room.
“His condition has improved today and he is expected to recover,” Morse said.
Hatfield had captured the snake sometime last week and was illegally possessing it, Morse said. Because cottonmouths are venomous, a state permit is required to keep them.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating and Hatfield could face charges, Morse said.
The snake was captured and euthanized so a proper identification could be made, he said.
A spokeswoman for Tampa General said Tuesday that Hatfield and his family asked that no more information be released about his condition. He and his family declined to be interviewed or share photos, the spokeswoman said.
The cottonmouth, a member of the viper family, gets its name from the cotton-white interior of its mouth. When threatened, the snake often coils and opens its mouth. They are the only venomous water snakes in Florida and are usually found in swamp-like habitats. Adult snakes are dark in color and can grow to between 2 and 4 feet. They have broad, triangular heads and a dark stripe that runs through their eyes. There is a deep pit between their eyes and nostrils.
Those who come across the snakes should give them a wide berth, Morse said.
“It really doesn’t want to eat you, but it will protect itself,” Morse said. “Cottonmouths have a reputation of being somewhat skittish when you get near them and they will readily defend themselves.”