If you happen to see an eight-foot King Cobra slithering down your Florida sidewalk, don’t chalk it up to your eyes deceiving you. There’s a snake on the loose.
Wildlife officials are searching for a snake that escaped from a home in Orlando that was reported missing by its owner Wednesday.
Greg Workman, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, says the snake's owner has the proper permit to keep it as a pet and officials say the owner is an experienced snake handler.
The escaped critter has some residents on high alert.
"I'm going to go load my guns. Well, they're already loaded, but I'm going to have them ready for sure. I mean, that thing's big enough to take you down for sure," nearby resident James McLeod told local NBC affiliate WESH.
The green and yellow reptile is non-native and venomous, so residents who happen upon the critter are urged not to approach the animal and instead report the sighting to the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922).
King Cobras are among the most venomous snakes in the world, and their ability to raise their bodies up means that they can stare a full-grown person in the eye. Fortunately, the King Cobra is generally shy and will avoid human contact, only acting aggressively when cornered.
The defining feature of the species is its hood, which can be flattened out by the animal to make it look larger and more threatening, not that it needs much help on that front. It can also emit a shrieking hiss that sounds similar to a growling canine.
Still, snake bites are rare in the United States, and deaths are even rarer, generally fewer than five Americans die from snake attacks annually.
King cobras are native to the rain forests and plains of India, southern China, and Southeast Asia, half a world away from Florida, but in a somewhat similar climate.
Plenty of species of snakes thrive in the humid marshlands of the Florida Everglades – which reaches into Orlando – and many non-native reptiles call the area home.
Burmese Pythons, for example, have become a major invasive species in Florida threatening to tip the delicate balance of the Everglades ecosystem.
Since 2009, thousands of the creatures have been captured. Many of the original pythons were let out when Hurricane Andrew destroyed a python breeding facility and a zoo warehouse, but household escapees make up a good portion of the population as well.
Wildlife officials have resorted to novel ways to try and capture the animals, including even hosting a Florida Python Challenge snake hunt that drew 1,500 participants.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.