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Don't tread on me...please?

Don't tread on me...please?
Photo Information
Copyright: Chris Harrison (chrish) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 49 W: 9 N: 95] (372)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2006-04-22
Categories: Reptiles
Camera: Konica Minolta Dynax 7D, Tamrom 90mm f2.8 DI
Exposure: f/11, 1/60 seconds
Details: (Fill) Flash: Yes
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Theme(s): Snakes - Serpientes - Serpents, Open Up ...Part I [view contributor(s)]
Date Submitted: 2006-04-23 12:55
Viewed: 6464
Points: 10
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
This is the Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma) showing off his namesake white mouth lining.

This species of venomous snake is probably the most reviled and misunderstood snake in North America. It is the star of more urban legends/myths than any other snake in North America and maybe the world (although the Black Mamba of Africa and the fictitious "12-step Snakes" of Southeast Asia could give it a run for the money! LOL).
The urban legends include stories about "nests" of cottonmouths - usually involving some hapless water skier being bitten 2000 times, cottonmouths chasing people, attacking by falling out of trees into unsuspecting boats, etc. Cottonmouths don't do any of these things.

Not every dark snake that lives by the water is a cottonmouth. Hundreds of harmless watersnakes and other non-venomous species are killed each year because they are "water moccassins" (i.e. cottonmouths). This often occurs well outside of the range of the cottonmouth. This is unfortunate. I have many times been shown pictures/carcasses of "cottonmouths" by otherwise knowledgeable field people, only to see some mangled watersnake. And I have been with people in the field who didn't correctly identify a real cottonmouth!

If anything, the cottonmouth is one of the most "gentlemanly" of the North American venomous snakes. They tend to live in areas people don't like to go (swamps, marshes, etc) and tend to keep to themselves. If approached, they will usually crawl away quietly or sit very still, hoping to be overlooked. If disturbed, they will then lift their head up to a characteristic 90 angle and flash their white mouth lining. You can see in the photo that they don't extend their fangs when doing this.

What is most surprising about cottonmouths is that in spite of the fact that they are dangerously venomous, they rarely try to bite. I gently prodded this snake on the body with a stick and leaned right over it with my 100mm macro lens and it never once made any attempt to bite or strike during the process (copperheads and rattlesnakes aren't nearly as patient).

Recent studies at the Savannah River Ecology Lab have confirmed that cottonmouths rarely bite, even when quite roughly handled or picked up. The only case of a cottonmouth bite I know of is where someone accidentally stepped on one getting out of the car (in a swamp where they planned on looking for cottonmouths!).

I don't suggest anyone try handling cottonmouths, since the penalty for being one of the rare exceptions is a painful hospital stay, but they don't need to be killed on sight when they are found out in the woods. They don't present a real danger to people.

So please,...don't tread on me. Let's just go our separate ways.

PerR, angybone, Alex_Strugariu, IulianGherghel, Luis52 has marked this note useful
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Critiques [Translate]

Holy cow. Great pose and well caught.

Nicely done

Great capture, Chris, the rigth moment!!!

Hi Chris,

Great cottonmauth photo! Now everybody knows where it`s name comes from.

nice shot,

  • Great 
  • Luis52 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1175 W: 8 N: 4240] (15809)
  • [2007-10-09 19:37]

Hola Chris. Exelente foto. Only I can say is WOW. Very Very Nice photo. Luis52.

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