Ahhh, Florida.

Land of sunshine, theme parks, beaches….and bugs! Yep, you understood that correctly. There are multitudes of creepy, crawly, flying critters down there.

I grew up in Pahokee, a small lakeside town located in Palm Beach County. When I was a young girl, we often had picnics at the lake. My mom would make sandwiches or fry chicken, and my family would make a day of it. There was a section of the lake in the picnic area cordoned off specifically for swimming. Today, I wouldn’t go in the water even on a bet. Alligators have completely taken over and there is no safe spot for swimming any longer. They hang around the pier while residents are fishing, swim around the marina where boats are docked, and come ashore all along the lakeside to sunbathe. For my job, I commuted 80 miles round-trip every day on Highway 441, which is near the dike that surrounds the lake. Many times I’ve had to stop to allow one to cross the road in front of me. I’ve also seen them dead on the side of the road, hoping that whoever had collided with them hadn’t suffered any injuries. When I worked for Florida Highway Patrol, we investigated traffic deaths that were a direct result of hitting an alligator, causing the cars to flip over the guardrail and land in the canal.

But alligators aren’t the only critters down there that give me the heebie jeebies. The mosquitoes are so big that they plan dinner parties and invite a hundred of their closest friends to feast on human flesh. Yes, mosquitoes are everywhere, but I’ll bet you’ve never seen one fly away while carrying a chicken leg it stole off your plate! Okay, okay, I might be exaggerating a tiny bit….but they are big.

Alligator attacks rare in Florida, but nuisance gator numbers on rise
Florida alligators sunbathing on the bank.

Then there’s the spiders. To understand their size, do me a favor. Open your hand and take a good look at your palm. Now, imagine a spider that big inside your house. They’re called giant crab spiders and they are fast on their legs and HUGE!!! If you should ever come across one, don’t spray it with pesticide…..they jump. I did that once and the spider sprang from the wall and straight into my face. I nearly beat the crap out of myself trying to get that thing off me. Here’s a picture of one in case you’re wondering:

Giant crab spider.

If you don’t like lizards or are afraid of them, then you won’t like the ones in Florida because there are multitudes of species down there. Green friendly ones (the kind I used to catch as a kid and keep them in a coffee can and wore them as earrings), skinks (what we always called scorpion lizards), brown ones, and giant iguanas. There was a time that you could only see the iguanas at the zoo, but now they roam the streets freely, welcome themselves into people’s homes and backyards, and have been known to feast on small pets. But they also get feasted on. Some people find their meat quite tasty. I have no intentions of finding out. If it gets too cold, they literally freeze and fall out of the trees. But not to worry. Once they thaw out, they’re good to go.

Florida Iguanas

There are also many types of snakes down there. Rattlers, water moccasins, garden snakes. But the ones who have gotten out of hand are the pythons. They are NOT indigenous to Florida. The overwhelming population of them was caused by humans purchasing them as pets and then realizing that wasn’t such a good idea, then releasing them into the wild, which has a horrible effect on the ecosystem balance.

A python captured in Florida by snake hunters.

Imagine seeing a cockroach the size of a child’s toy car. You think I’m joking again, right? I’m not. Now, picture that same size roach FLYING! They’re called Palmetto bugs, but they look just like cockroaches, except that they have wings. I’ve always called them B-52 bombers because if one ever does fly toward you, it will inevitably aim for your face and/or hair. And once those prickly legs get entangled in your hair, it’s not so easy getting them out.

Palmetto Bug (flying cockroach)

I can’t finish this story without including the *gulp* cane rats. If you think a sewer rat is big, baby, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! They can grow to be about the size of a domestic housecat. They’re usually only seen once the sugarcane fields have begun to burn, and they flee the fields in search of shelter. Like any other rat or rodent, they’re extremely destructive.

Feral Thoughts: Giant rat poses threat to Florida Everglades
Cane Rats

And let’s not forget the cane toads. It takes two hands to handle a whopper. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve picked up many of them. While harmless to humans, the poisonous toxin they release is fatal to dogs and cats and are usually poisoned by licking or eating them.

Cane Toad

Florida is HOT! You think you know what humidity is? Go to Florida for an honest experience, where you can’t even walk to your mailbox without sweat soaking your shirt. On the day we left in July of 2009, it was 106 degrees…without the heat index. That was the actual temperature.

Is Florida beautiful? Many parts of it, yes. The Gulf Coast beaches (Fort Myers, Tampa, St. Pete) have soft, white sand, as opposed to the brown, grainy sand on the east coast Atlantic beaches. I traveled to cities all over the state when I bowled competitively, but although I was born and raised in Florida, there are many places that I’ve never been to. I’ve never been to the Keys, St. Augustine or Panama City.

Tampa Beach (West Coast of Florida)
Lake Worth Beach (East Coast of Florida)
Home, Sweet, Home….Lake Okeechobee

When I decided to move away, I really thought I would have a hard time with homesickness, and would miss it so badly that I’d want to move back. Back to the spiders and roaches and snakes and alligators. But I don’t. In fact, I don’t miss it at all.

I love being in Indiana and actually experiencing the four seasons. It gets hot here, too, in the summertime, but at least there’s a reprieve when Fall rolls around and brings with it the changing of the leaves into beautiful colors, the crispness of the cool air, chilly nights around the firepit, watching snow fall in the winter.

I am living my dream, and I couldn’t be happier.

Have any of you ever been to Florida? If so, what part? Tell me about your experience. I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time…

Take care, stay safe, and be well….

Glenda

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