Monday, June 18, 2007

This is not a Cottonmouth

This is our extremely common and widespread non-venemous Northern Watersnake, Nerodia sipedon. I am positive that this critter is responsible for about 100% (possibly more) of the many, many unconfirmed reports of Cottonmouths here in Lewis County. There are no confirmed records for Cottonmouths for the county. Big thick brown snake by the water, whitish mouth when you piss it off and it strikes at you, you'll never convince a local boy this isn't a Cottonmouth, unfortunately.


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that is my experience here in the Piedmont of NC, where we do not have Cottonmouths. (They occur to the south and east, in the Coastal Plain, but do not cross the fall line.) People tell me they see cottonmouths all the time. I ask them if they are familiar with the Northern Watersnake, and they look at me with a blank expression. Sometimes Nerodia are said to be Copperheads, as well. (Those are pretty common around my area, but are mostly nocturnal, so not seen nearly as often as reported.)

I despair of ever educating people, but keep trying. Sometimes I point out the round iris--people seem to key in on that.

The Brown watersnake of the coastal plain to me looks even more like a cottonmouth--it even does a mouth-gape display, showing the white lining--very intimidating.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

I think the Brown Watersnake may actually have evolved to be a Cottonmouth mimic. It's certainly effective.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Mark VanderVen said...


I had the same experiences with locals and even, before educating them, one or two members of our search team in the Choctawhatchee this winter and spring.

While the less-distinctly-marked Eastern Cottonmouth may have a legitimate claim to Brown Watersnake resemblance, I'd think that even the semi-trained eye should have no difficulty sorting moccasins from watersnakes in Florida. The facial markings on the Florida Cottonmouth are distinctive, make it easy to see eye-shape, and even help to highlight the shape of the head.

Once while admiring a massive, basking Brown Watersnake from my kayak on the main stem of the Choc, I heard a boat revving up from a nearby inlet. I ducked into the inlet myself so as to avoid bigger wake when the boat came out into the main trunk and waved to the boaters, who rounded the bend. I heard gunfire from the spot where the snake had been sitting a few minutes later.

Though we bonded with the locals, most of whom were tolerant of our presence and interested in our search, I found their ignorance of snakes to be frustrating, especially as I taught myself everything one would need to know about common southern snake ID in a couple of weeks. Many would make remarks like, "Sorry, but I kill something first that wants to kill me."

When hearing this, I'd first want to exclaim, "But even the venomous ones don't want to kill you! What do you think they have rattles and cottony-mouths for?" And then I'd tell them that, 9 of 10 times, the snake of their encounter was likely not a venomous one.

It's even tragic that the cottonmouths take a hit, as
I've found their supposed "aggression" to be overrated. It's even sadder that a largely innocuous snake gets hit even harder for simply bearing a resemblance.


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