A swimming pool is a body of water that survives without an ecosystem, lacking: plants, algae, fungi, microorganisms, and fish. Everything a service tech does is in an effort to keep this ecosystem from forming – to keep Mother Nature from taking back what she believes is rightly hers. A backyard pool is a very unnatural thing, and the closer this vegetation-free pond is built to nature, the greater nature’s encroachment will be.
In my career, I have had the opportunity to treat and care for swimming pools (to one extent or another) throughout much of the United States. It wasn’t until I began servicing swimming pools in Florida that I truly understood the potential for nature's intrusion, above and beyond the norm of keeping algae at bay. The chance of interaction so frequent, that practices and policies regarding employee safety were developed and implemented.
Responding to a call for algae treatment, we arrived at our potentially new client’s home to find that their pool was pea soup green. Upon utilizing a telepole to gauge the depth of the pool to determine chemical calculations, a pair of eyes slowly rose from beneath the algae. The homeowner was instructed to have wildlife control remove the six-foot long alligator and provide proof that it was removed before we would continue. Use the buddy system when approaching a murky pool; a second set of eyes may save your life.
Removing the lid from a pump pot to empty the strainer basket on a cool morning, something fairly large moved slowly across the toe of my shoe. The cold blooded water moccasin had most likely found comfort in the heat that was being generated by the pool motor. Carefully examine the pool equipment before risking any of your limbs.
My employee John had stopped the service truck to move a branch that had fallen across a customer’s driveway. As he got out of the truck, the branch began to move. The six-foot long everglades rat snake eventually meandered into the grass allowing passage. Treat every snake as if it were venomous.
In removing the skimmer lid from a pool deck, it appeared as though the leaves that had collected in the basket moved slightly. Utilizing a telepole without an attachment to probe the debris, an eight-inch long red, white and black stripped snake evacuated the skimmer and slithered across the surface of the pool. Immediately, the color sequence in the rhyme runs through your head “Red on black? Red on yellow? Is that stripe white?” The harmless Scarlett King Snake had most likely entered the pool for a drink of water, but was then too small to get back out. Always look before you reach.
A Majority of Florida snakes are harmless. Of the 50 established species and 45 subspecies found in the state, only six species are venomous, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
We do not find a critter on every service call, but in the hundred plus pools we maintain in North Central Florida, it does occur at least two or three times a week – everything from frogs and snapping turtles, to the occasional gator. The majority of animals we find are snakes, and the majority of those are non-venomous. Still, we are not herpetologists, so I reached out to Dr. Kenneth L. Krysko, Collection Manager, Division of Herpetology, at the University of Florida’s FMNH.
Dr. Krysko recommends using FMNH's online reference guide
The guide offers some helpful advice on what to in the event of a snake bite:
Most people are bitten on the hands and arms when they are handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity, hands off.
For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to writhe slowly, but poking or prodding a freshly killed snake can cause a convulsive contraction and even a bite, so do not handle a freshly killed venomous snake.
Stay calm, remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, keep the bitten limb below
The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin.
So, if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility.
Says Dr. Krysko: “Venomous or not, we hate to see native snakes killed unnecessarily, therefore you should see our page on 'How to Get Along with Snakes'. This page describes and illustrates how to safely capture and remove venomous snakes, though we do suggest you simply leave all snakes alone so that you cannot be bitten as a defensive behavior by the snake. The photos on that page show the safe capture of a juvenile cottonmouth... I recommend just releasing them in nearby woods. It’s amazing the diversity we have living in people’s yards!”
And pools, for that matter.
Rudy Stankowitz is the owner of Aqua-Caribbean, LLC, a pool service firm in Gainesville, Fla.