While some snakes may be rather elusive and difficult to spot, others can be… a bit more obvious. The latter was certainly the case with this beefy and robust Florida cottonmouth, Agkistrodon conanti. This venomous viper was half-on/half-off US Highway 29 — naked, exposed, and flirting with the inertial impact of oncoming vehicles.
Cottonmouths certainly pick up a lot of slack from people. I’ve heard all the stories time and time again. They’re aggressive. They’ll chase you. They’re downright mean. Yatta yatta yatta, and on and on and on. The truth is cottonmouths aren’t any of those things. Yes, they can certainly be stubborn or determined, but cottonmouths simply aren’t aggressive or mean, and they sure as hell don’t waste energy aimlessly chasing people around (or cars for that matter).
When threatened, the cottonmouth will typically try to do one of two things. First, they’ll flee to the water or some other form of cover if that’s available. If a cottonmouth doesn’t think it can do that, it’ll coil up and perhaps take a defensive posture — which is what you see in some of the images on this post. The cottonmouth earns its common name due to this defensive posture. It’ll coil up and gape its white, cottony mouth — presumably to intimidate would-be predators. Being a venomous snake, I know I always feel a wee bit intimidated when I see that mouth (not to mention all that mass, all that muscle). I’m not afraid of cottonmouths, but I certainly treat them with all due caution and respect.
As is always the case, this cottonmouth simply didn’t chase after us. It didn’t even strike at us. It just displayed for a while and then, with a bit of gentle encouragement, made its way into the adjacent canal line next to the road. Nothing to be afraid of, but certainly something to respect.
It was, of course, fantastic finding a healthy, beefy cottonmouth at the beginning of our Spring Break Nerodia/Anolis sojourn — and I’m glad this one dodged the much more menacing threat posed by people driving heavy machinery while facebooking at 70 miles per hour. I guess if you want to be afraid of snakes, that’s your prerogative, but personally…? for myself? Yeah, people ‘driving’ is a hell of a lot scarier to me… When cottonmouths start tweeting while driving cars, that’s when I’ll start being afraid of them. Until that day arises, I’ll give my respect to the cottonmouths and save my fear for the distracted hominids barreling down US Highway 29.