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The Water Moccasin, or Cottonmouth Snake
The Water Moccasin
I've spent more time this Spring outdoors than I have in a long time. Mostly I've been going fishing for striped bass, sand bass, or hybrid bass: and though I knew that there would be some snakes out there, I still dreaded my first encounter (and hopefully last) with the Water Moccasin that would surely, and did, in fact, come. My friend and I had already made a run, caught several bass, and took them back to my place to clean; and then we'd gone back for more. We'd caught another big hybrid, and put him into a cooler with some water, and decided to walk further down the length of King's Creek, to look for some more wide, deep pools. We weren't very successful, with me only catching a small Channel Catfish, which we released, and so after a while we decided to head back, get the cooler, and leave.
"Hey, Todd, why don't you dump the water out of that cooler; and we'll go clean that fish. . "
And so I'd tipped the cooler, and while watching the water from it flow downhill towards the creek I realized that a sizable, black Water Moccasin had just slithered right between my feet. You can imagine my expletive laced outburst. The snake had been inside the cooler with the fish, and the fish was discolored, and didn't make the trip home. I'll not eat after a snake - ever.
Looking back on it, it should have been obvious to me that a snake would be able to smell the fish inside the cooler, and with a little nudge of it's head it could open the lid and get inside.
Agkistrodon piscivorus (Latin, the Genus and species)
The Water Moccasin, or "Cottonmouth," as it is sometimes called, is a venomous viper, and should be avoided at all costs. Though the venom can indeed be deadly to humans, it most often is not. I'm told that anti venom for this snake's bite should be common at any hospital. It is, in fact, the same anti venom used for almost all North American poisonous snakebites, as the Cottonmouth, as it is called as the white of it's mouth's insides appears with fangs barred, in contrast to the snake's body's near black color, is a close relative to the Rattlesnake and the Copperhead.
So this snake has a reputation as an aggressive one, and like I said, it is to be avoided, but I for one can and will tell you that it's reputation as an aggressive reptile is over rated. There have been a number of times that I've been stomping through the woods near water, and nearly stepped on one of these critters. I do recognize that I'm a pretty lucky fella in a number of regards, but I also recall a time when I was about twelve years old when I killed a Agkistrodon piscivorus specimen that I measured at five feet and six inches long. I've never had a snake come at me, but that is probably because I have mostly always killed them as soon as I've seen them, and with whatever means that I had available to me to kill them with. Yes, I've grown older and wiser - I see how pointless it generally is to kill a snake, and certainly, the one I most recently saw slither between my feet lived on after I left the area, and he probably finished his meal on MY sand bass too!
Reading the Wikipedia article about this poisonous viper, I was struck by the apparent color variations that this species of snake can, in fact, have. If you decide to view the article, you can see that the snake can almost be, at times, identical to it's cousin, the Copperhead. I realize now that it could be that in the past, I'd wrongly assumed that I'd encountered a Copperhead, when in fact, I'd walked up on a Water Moccasin. Suffice it to say, however, that Copperheads are most often seen under bushes, or in brush, and that the Cottonmouth Viper, usually a larger and much darker snake, is always found close to water,
A Water Moccasin, or "Cottonmouth"
Territory, behavior, Venom
The Water Moccasin can be found from East Texas to Florida. and all points in between, it is sometimes seen as far North as Nebraska and Illinois, and parts of South Carolina. The Water Moccasin is unafraid of salt water, and has managed to swim out to sea, colonizing small barrier Gulf Coast islands. People reportedly bitten by Water Moccasin snakes are somewhat commonly occurring throughout the lower Mississippi River Valley; fatalities, however, are very uncommon.
The Water Moccasin mostly feeds on fish and frogs, but has been described as omni-carnivorous, and has been known to even feed on carrion, and smaller Water Moccasins. There are three sub-species of this snake, and none of them, or its relatives are in the least bit of danger so far as our world's biodiversity is concerned. The snake is itself the prey of snapping turtles, owls, and other snakes, such as the King Snake.
The Cottonmouth's venomous bite is reported as being more painful than it's cousin's, the Copperhead, but less painful than that of either the Eastern or Western Diamondback Rattlesnake's bite. That bit stirs my imagination - I'm left wondering if someone out there has actually been bitten by any three or four species of snake, and then gave an opinion as to which snake's bite was more painful. What's important to know is that the Water Moccasin's venom, though rich in tissue destroying enzymes - contains NO neurotoxins.
Cottonmouth snakes in Florida
Though I hesitate to call a creature such as the Water Moccasin "beautiful," it is important to realize that all non invasive species of any given ecosystem exist for a reason, and that the needless killing of such creatures devalues the lives of all creatures. I was asking my Dad here recently about snakes such as these, and the Dad said that he'd never known of anyone here locally to have been bitten by a Cottonmouth, but that one of his cousins had been bitten by a Copperhead here locally, when they were children. Of course the Shaw cousin had been fine after a couple days in a local hospital,
I hope that this has been interesting for someone, and that maybe something was learned. I certainly learned a great deal while doing the bit of research for this article. Enjoy the outdoors, and stay away from pit vipers.