Snakes on Tiger Island! – Why “Snakes”?
Written by: Kacie Couch
Well one thing is for certain, if Indiana Jones didn’t like the snakes in Raiders of the Lost Arc, he certainly wouldn’t like it around here; especially on Tiger Island, just to the west of Amelia.
Tiger Island is known to the locals as Snake Island, and for good reason. Snake Island is reported to have the highest density of rattlesnakes on the entire eastern seaboard. That’s a lot of snakes, folks. Why are they so populous here? Well, that story goes back a ways; back to the Okefenokee in fact. When big storms (such as hurricanes or continuous summer rainstorms) come through our area and the Okefenokee Swamp floods, many of its contents flow right out of the swamp and down the St. Mary’s river. These “contents” can include anything from grass, logs, gators, hogs, and of course, snakes. By the time they reach the inlet to our north where the St. Mary’s meets the sea, the snakes can sense the salinity content in the water rising and start looking for land. At that point they have three options: Cumberland Island, Amelia Island, or Snake Island.
So why does Snake Island have the most rattlesnakes? Why not Cumberland or Amelia? The reason is simple: on Snake Island, the rattlesnakes have no natural predators. While the same numbers of snakes arrive annually to Amelia and Cumberland Island as they do on Snake Island, they tend to have a smaller survival rate here than they do on Tiger Island (and thank goodness for that.)
Speaking of predators, I’m sure you’re wondering how Tiger Island got its original (non-local) name in the first place. I will start by assuring you that as dangerous as Snake Island may seem, it is not inhabited by Tigers too. Tiger Island is the English translation of its Spanish name: Isle Del Tigre. The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover this area and upon doing so noted the abundance of bobcats. Never having seen a bobcat before, they called them tigers and named Tiger Island after them. Bobcats certainly still roam Tiger Island- and I’m sure that they have no lack of delicious snake dinners.
The Spanish were not the only ones to visit Tiger Island. Just as Fernandina became a popular spot for sailors, so became Tiger Island; but for a far worse reason. While Amelia Island was a place of trade and profit, Tiger Island was a place of death and disease. When ships would come into port they would first stop at Tiger Island to drop off their sick before docking at Amelia Island to conduct their business.
Those left on Tiger Island had few resources; a small dysentery hospital, water, and most importantly very few other humans to catch whatever the sailors may be carrying. If the sailors had regained health before their ship set sail, perhaps the captain would be gracious enough to allow them back on board. If not, they were left to regain their health, or to die.
I always thought that there was a sick irony to regaining your health while marooned on Snake Island. Imagine celebrating your recovery from a long illness by taking a stroll only to be bitten by a rattlesnake and die the next day. Needless to say, not many sailors left the Island once they arrived.
Now the island is part of the Florida State Park service. You are welcome to visit it at any time, but I would certainly advise against it. After all, why visit a rattlesnake infested island when you can view it from the comfort of a boat? And as it happens, all of our tours on Amelia River Cruises pass and talk about Tiger (or Snake) Island. So join us for a tour today and learn more about this beautiful, fascinating and slightly (if you have the same mindset about snakes as Indiana Jones and I) scary place.
See you on the boat everyone!
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