I’ve lived in Florida for four decades. I love my home state and understand why so many folks come to visit – and move here – each year.
But the visitors who have made the state home aren’t always the two-legged variety. There comes a point in the life of every Floridian (and every visitor) when a wide-eyed look is followed up with the words, “What the heck was that thing?”
Allow me to share. Consider it a public service announcement. I’m here to help.
I admit it here, I am prejudiced against spiders, despite their many contributions to our state’s ecological welfare, owing to a deeply rooted case of arachnophobia that causes me to recoil in terror anytime I see even a picture of a spider.
Because we have several venomous spiders in Florida, your best bet is to keep a healthy distance from anything with eight legs and multiple eyes. But if the muti-legged arachnid is around four inches long and advances toward you rather than scuttling away into the nearest dark corner, you might be dealing with a huntsman spider. Like many things in Florida, this little darling arrived from elsewhere and decided the place was so nice, it would stay.
Yes, they are slightly venomous (but typically harmless to people), and the females are aggressive. The variety most often found in Central and South Florida is typically a dusky brown and a bit hairy, and their legs are thin and crablike. This particular spider is found in many tropical hot spots, and those in Florida happen to have a fondness for the next critter on my list: the palmetto bug.
Palmetto Bugs (And Cockroaches!)
Unfortunately, many visitors to the state encounter palmetto bugs for the first time at night, when the winged darlings typically emerge from their dark, daytime hiding spots and fly – yes, fly, landing on the heads or in the swimming pools of unsuspecting people. Palmetto bugs are brown, shiny, and around two inches long. Their cousins, the cockroach, also grow pretty darn big in these parts, and if you are unfortunate enough to have sharp vision near a dock or anywhere near the beach at night, you will likely see them emerge by the droves.
You might think you have a pretty good grasp of what a roach looks like, but you should be aware: Florida grows them big. Cockroaches in the Sunshine State don’t quite rival the size of a small bird, but I’ve seen them around 3 1/2″ long, which seems a whole lot bigger when it’s scurrying along the sidewalk. It should be understood that I dispatch them with great prejudice on the unfortunate occasions we cross paths.
The fire ant, I am quite certain, is an escapee from one of Dante’s rings of hell. They are aggressive red beasts that have a particularly nasty habit of attacking en masse. Their mounds grow to a substantial size if left to their own devices, but often, they’re hiding along the edges of sidewalks, in potted plants and under mulch.
Sometimes the first sign you have of their presence is the simultaneous attack of a dozen ants at once. Children need to be especially careful around these Florida pests. Small white blisters develop at the site of fire ant bites, and they often leave scars. Hundreds of bites can occur in a very short time and be life-threatening.
This shouldn’t, by any means, discourage you from enjoying Florida’s natural spaces. The state’s diverse wildlife provides plenty of opportunities for adventure! Unfortunately, the first encounter many folks have with some of Florida’s more interesting multi-legged creatures is one of surprise and fear, and that’s the sort of thing that can put a damper on the most enjoyable vacation.
The truth is, these insects are all around us, and, for the most part, keep to themselves … and that, to me, is a wonderful thing.