Thursday, March 13, 2008

If You Don't See The Beauty In A Cottonmouth Moccasin, Maybe You Are Standing Too Far Away

People hate this snake. They might fear rattlesnakes, but they seem to revile this one ... as if it were capable of being evil. It's not of course, only we have that ability.
They attribute all sorts of vicious qualities to it ...

"Those cottonmouths are just plain mean ... they'll chase you through the swamp ... swim after you and attack ya ... I run over every one I see ..."

So ... if they are not evil, human chasing serpents, why do they get such a reputation?
Mostly from handed down "knowledge" of course, but they do have some characteristics that add fuel to the fire.
They are painfully, powerfully poisonous, but they are fish and frog eaters who need to stop their prey quickly before it gets away.

They are well camouflaged, so of course that makes them "sneaky" when we fail to see them as we walk in the swamp.

They are also apt to hold their ground when encountered instead of slipping away quickly like many snakes do.
People see that as an aggressive stance instead of a frightened animal relying on it's camouflage, but not having the brainpower to know the jig is up.

When it does get the message that it's been seen, it may slither away slowly due to it's chubby physique . If in her tiny reptile brain, the moccasin slithers off in the direction of the human who scared it, well then, "That ol' cottonmouth chased me off the river bank."

Now who's brain is tiny?

If she doesn't slither off, she might go into a defensive posture like this beauty
She raises and flattens her head to look scarier and if that doesn't work ...

She tries one more thing to get you to back off and it is impressive.
That beautiful brown skin opens up to reveal a "cotton mouth" of white complete with fangs and accompanied by a soft hiss ... not loud like a pine snake, ... just a little exhalation.

If there's no way out, then she locks and loads for the only active defense she has which is to strike rapidly and repeatedly.

Again, remember, she does that because she is frightened.

She's not evil.
Capable and potent, but not evil.

Give her the respect she's due ... and some admiration for her wonderful adaptations if you can muster it ...

... just do it from a safe distance.


pablo said...

I'm sufficiently impressed (and schooled)!

ldybug said...

I hate snakes so much. This was a good post because it reinforces they are not predators, but scared little creatures that just happen to have a pretty creepy line of defense against bigger creatures. I'll try to be more accepting of them.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, but I still think I find them more beautiful when I'm standing far away. And it sounds like that's mutual. :)

Hurricane Teen said...

I don't dislike snakes, but these guys do sit in the back of my swamp rat-ish mind. I've had some seriously close calls in which they almost had every reason to bite my (i.e. stepping on them)
They are long as you know where they are!

dani813 said...

Such a GREAT post FC!! Being a HUGE snake lover I really like posts like yours or Laura's writing about what we encounter out and about in our land.Caution is always good but I don't feel like you have to kill every little or not so little one you see.They are just trying to make their way in life like the rest of us.

Jane said...

What a brilliant post. I discovered snakes "in the wild" for the first time last year on a holiday to France. There were beautiful grass snakes everywhere, and I became fascinated by them - even filming one for hours while it ate a frog. We don't have many snakes in the UK, but I'm now on the hunt for our local Adders, which live in the woodlands nearby and are currently coming out of their winter hideouts. I'd love to film one in the wild. Thank you so much for your post. Inspirational! Jane

Rurality said...

I'm going to leave the Cottonmouth-lovin' to you & Swampy. This is the one snake I'm really afraid of. Because I'm probably going to step on it some day, when I'm not watching where I'm going. (Almost did it already.) We are close to their northern range limit here, for which I'm very grateful.

threecollie said...

I like snakes, really actively like them (as long as they stay out of the garden pond and don't eat my frogs).That critter makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck though...guess it is just knowing that it is poisonous.

roger said...

great pics. beautiful snake.

Laura said...

Richard is going to Love This Post.
I'll show it to him tonight.

Before I met him, I didn't like snakes either. As a city girl from Miami, the sight of a cottonmouth would have sent me running for the hills. But I never would have wanted to see one dead, simply because it was a snake.

Richard, on the other hand (and much like you) would stop to admire them, something I found out when we moved to the lake and he would stop the truck every single time he saw a snake on the road. In Feb and March, it seemed that there were more of them as winter gave way to spring and they would come out to warm themselves on the roadside.

Then I'd get a long spiral from him on how beautiful it was, how difficult it was to survive and so forth. He'd shoo it off the road if it was still alive.

Because we lived a good 45 minutes from Shands at the time, I was always terrified he'd earn a bite mark for his trouble.

In any event, I've learned to respect them for the life they lead and I'll continue to look from afar. Very much afar.

And now I want to know, just what were you doing to get the snake to pose for you??? Was this taken during the adventure with Cynthia, and was she getting ready to put the cell phone on speed dial for 911? LOL

And Thank God for zoom lens.;)

tsiya said...

This one is ready to molt, I believe, they don't have good vision then, until the loose scale over their eye comes off. They can be even fiestier when they can't see clearly.

SwampAngel65 said...

That was a beautiful tribute! I don't fear cottonmouths, I respect them. I see their beauty and their power. Until I read your words, I thought they were stubborn and mean, though, when they stand their ground and don't back off. I like the way you tell it much better! They just think they're hidden and freeze!

Very nice pictures, too. I have to say one thing, though, because it is a pet peeve of mine...snakes aren't "poisonous". They are "venomous". If you bite it and it makes you sick, then it's poisonous. If it bites you and makes you sick, then it's venomous.

I think I will refer this post to people I know who think all snakes are the spawn of satan and maybe they'll understand....

kevin said...

I'm glad I read through all the replies, I was going to point out the poisonous/venomous thing, good call Swampangel.

Back in the surveying days I had numerous arms-length encounters with venomous snakes. The only that one that made me really uneasy was a huge cotton-mouth. It was caught and sold to the Alligator farm alive. I hope it lived a long life and even help save some lives by being milked for antivenin.

cinbad122 said...

Those pics came out great!

Anonymous said...

You explained it exactly, as I've known it. Also, your pix are very fine. I love to encounter any snake in the woods, though, I fear man has whupped the snake in Florida.

FloridaBoy said...

I used to delineate wetlands for a living. I would walk around them and hang surveyor's flagging on vegetation where the legal "line" was located.

One day, while tying one on a pine tree and standing on unfirm ground, I felt a stick against my left shin, so I leaned into the stick to brace myself. When I finished hanging the flag, I looked down at the stick.

It was not a stick. It was a 3.5ft momma cottonmouth with 5 young 'uns. As soon as I made eye contact with her, most of the young moccasins immediately leapt into the water and hid. Momma moccasin, however, just pulled back a couple of inches and froze, waiting to see what I would do.

Of course, I did a double back flip from a standing start, but she never threatened me. She was not unique - all the cottonmouths I ever encountered left me alone, and I was pretty close to a bunch of them.

Now show us a pic of a diamondback and tell us how peaceful they are, and I'll give you another true story, about a pair of rattlers "smoking cigarettes" but not biting me. ;-)

ImagineMel said...

That sound you hear is me kicking myself for coming back to look today...I KNEW better. Dumb dumb dumb.

Doug Taron said...

Great pictures. How close were you standing to photograph them? I do wonder about provoking a venomous snake at close range- and that one sure looks agitated to me. But then, I'm a northerner with no experience with cottonmouths. I'm not about to try that with a massasauga.

Flatland Mountaineer said...

As anyone would do I would most certainly recoil in fright if I was to encounter such a beast in the wild. It's what you do next that counts. Thanks for reminding us that, as my Dad's cousin Bill Goodson would say; "Leave him alone. He's just trying to make a living".

Floridacracker said...

It's an impressive critter.

I think everybody who likes snakes wants to hear a comment like that. Thank you for reconsidering them :)

Yes, they want us far away too.

Yes, beautiful as long as you know where they are.

Thanks. I agree, they are just trying to make their way. Glad you enjoyed this post!

Thanks for the kind words. I'm trying to imagine living where snakes are scarce and it's hard to do!
Good luck in your search for adders.

Your place is pretty much moccasin heaven. Be careful.

How could any snake survive the northview winter!


Richard? Not Rick?
Is he in trouble?
I'm with him on all those points. I have stopped to shoo them off the road countless times. They get pretty stupid when the air is cold and the road is sun warmed.
Actually, most of the zooming happened back here on the computer during cropping.
The snake can only strike so far ...not very actually, so if you stay out of the danger zone, you can move in close. Cindy could attest to my proximity ... she had a clear view from inside the JEEP!
Having said that, I don't recommend anyone getting close to poisonous snakes.
Funny, but we are 45 minutes from Shands too.

Maybe, but that eye is still pretty clear with none of the condensation that fogs it when it's coming off.

Thanks! I'm glad you appreciate them too. You are correct on the venomous vs. poisonous semantics, but the common use is fine with me. I'm not likely to change at this point.

Neat. It's probably still there with the gator I took them.
Of course my gator may have eaten your moccasin.
The gators are losing right now and Mrs. FC is having a fit.

You are like some kind of reptile good luck charm. That was the most cooperative moccasin I've ever seen.

I think you are right. It's getting tougher for them, especially the big ones.

That was a close call... could have turned out badly.
As for your last comment, I'm not sure what the smoking cigs part means, but I've posted on rattlesnakes here before and my message is similar.
I've known a lot of diamondbacks and find them much like any other snake.

Did I not warn you?

She was about 2.5 feet long. I stayed just outside a 4 foot circle and knelt down to get those ground level shots. Just by my presence I provoked the defense response, but I did not actively provoke her except for one touch with a long twig to coax her into that last coiled posture. Most of the time she was stretched out with only her head elevated.

Floridacracker said...

That's excellent advice!

Sharon said...

'scuse me as I try and get my hair to lay back down...

Floridacracker said...

That will be $20 please and tips are appreciated.
Hairstraightening is our specialty.

Sharon said...

Check's in the mail ;o)

Here's your tip: post a warning sign in the future - something like

"WARNING!! Big, huge, scary snake ahead, large enough to swallow a clown car full of midgets"!!!


jason said...

Fantastic photos! More importantly, thank you addressing with common sense a simple respect for these creatures that so many people lack.

And what a beautiful snake! You had a marvelous opportunity to get great photos. I'm envious.

Floridacracker said...

I could put that on my header above.

Yes, it was a great snake. I did convince her to leave the road so she can stay a great snake.
Thanks for the kind words.

Cathy said...

Wow! Incredible pictures.

This information gives me a better appreciation for the story my dad told about my Alabama grandpa.

After a rainy spell he was wading in a pond and tossing debris to the side. The stick wasn't a stick. He got rid of it in a hurry.

Floridacracker said...

Yow! I would too.