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"Snakes will not pursue you and are not aggressive unless they feel cornered," King says. "If you find them at the base of a rock face where they can't back up, they may seem aggressive. But given a chance, almost every snake will flee and get away."

When you're out in nature, keep your eyes open and watch where you're walking. Don't step across a rock or fallen tree limb, because you can't see what's on the other side. Instead, step on the rock and then over.

"Snakes, harmless or venomous, hide under things where they have shelter," King says. "They don't like being stepped on by people or deer, so they tend to lie under the edge of logs or rocks."

If you live in an area with snakes, King suggests learning to identify the venomous from non-venomous species. And forget the myth that all venomous snakes have triangle-shaped heads or oval, cat-like eyes.

"Coral snakes don't," he points out. "There simply is no other way of doing it than getting familiar with the snakes."

The University of Florida Museum of Natural History has put together an online field guide (www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/fl-guide/onlineguide.htm) of the state's snakes. "We put in a key to identify snakes, and it is written for the layman," he says.

If you see a snake and can't identify it, don't handle it, King warns. If you do and are bitten, try to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital for identification. If the snake is poisonous, your prognosis and therapy will depend on the type of snake.

"Obviously, don't get bitten twice more trying to find the snake," says Craig S. Kitchens, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

A hematologist, Kitchens has been treating snakebites in Florida for 20 years. He sees between 30 and 40 victims a year. From that he has learned that the vast majority of snakebites are the result of someone poking, teasing, or cornering a snake.

"Snakes don't fall out of trees and bite your behind," he says.

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