A Florida teen took his love of snakes a little too far last weekend when the venomous water moccasin he kept in a pillowcase on his bed escaped and bit him on the lip.
Austin Hatfield, 18, is recovering from extreme swelling at a Tampa hospital, still too sick to talk to officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who want to know more about his capturing snakes without a permit.
Hatfield caught the pit viper – also known as a cottonmouth – last week and kept it in his room, bragging to friend he had kissed the serpent.
“He kisses it right on the head. Right on the mouth. He’s not afraid of death,” said Hatfield’s best friend, Jason Belcher.
That all changed over the weekend when the snake escaped from its pillowcase, slithered across Hatfield’s stomach and onto the floor, reported the Tampa Tribune. It struck when Hatfield tried to recapture it.
“He’s kissed it 12 times. The 13th wasn’t a lucky one,” said Belcher.
“We was sitting in the kitchen and he ran out of the room saying, ‘Hospital, hospital. Now, now.'”
Hatfield, admitted in critical condition, has since been upgraded to good condition and is expected to fully recover.
“They’re not the most poisonous snakes that we have here,” Alfred Aleguas, managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center, told CNN.
Noting bites from water moccasins are “very rare” – with those from rattlesnakes far more common – Aleguas warned: “Don’t play with them. Don’t handle them. Don’t do anything – stay away from, leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.”
Florida wildlife officials have indicated they may file charges against Hatfield.