I have spent the better part of my life learning about and spending time around snakes, and one thing always amazes me more than anything else. The myths and misconceptions about these fascinating creatures are almost always way off base. The one snake around here that people love to make up stories about is the cottonmouth, or water moccasin.
The cottonmouth snake is fairly hard to locate around these parts, and up until about three years ago, I had never seen one in the wild. Yet, if you talk with anyone around these parts, they would swear that they have hundreds of them around their yards, and they are all killers. Knowing this to be false, I still wanted to see one in the wild and find out just how tempermental these snakes really are. So I went looking.
After several weekends, and lots of searching, I finally had success one beautiful summer day a few years back. There on the very rock that I had fished off of a million times was the supreme reptile in these parts, the cottonmouth. I was very excited and more than a little nervous as I made my way closer to take a look.
The first thing that struck me about the snake was how fat it was. Cottonmouths are very heavy bodied and they seem much more fat than they do long. I was quite fascinated by the beauty of the snake. The cottonmouth was sunning itself on the rock as cold blooded reptiles often do. I got within about ten feet of the snake before he even really knew I was there.
After realizing I was standing there, he turned to me and coiled. The famous cottonmouth was staring directly at me, and I must admit it sent a little shiver down my spine. The cottonmouth has a very serious bite, and will not be shy about delivering it. That much I knew to be true, as I had studied the cottonmouth extensively. Still, the snake did not appear to be the monster that others had said.
One thing I did note about the cottonmouth was that it did not attempt to slink away like most snakes would. It held it’s ground and stared at me intently. I got the feeling that it had no intention of giving up that rock. After several minutes, I decided to move around a bit. As soon as I did move, the cottonmouth gaped open its mouth and showed me it’s business. When a cottonmouth feels threatened, it gapes open it’s mouth, and shows you the white interior of it’s mouth. That is the snake’s way of saying that you are getting too close, and that it will bite you if you come closer.
After several minutes, the snake had not moved at all. It just sat there and gaped, and occasionally vibrated it’s tail at me. This is another of the cottonmouth’s warnings. It was fascinating to watch this supreme reptile standing it’s ground like that.
What was most fascinating is what the cottonmouth did not do. It did not strike at me, though it certainly would have if I had continued to move closer. It did not pursue me as others had claimed repeatedly over the water cooler at work. It did not even really attempt to threaten me short of the simple open mouth warning that was more than enough for me. It simply stood it’s ground.
While the fact that the cottonmouth stood it’s ground was impressive, I did not get the feeling that this snake was overly aggressive. He simply had a warm rock, and was not willing to give it up easily. I am sure that if I had pestered it in some way it would have moved on to another rock or went into the water. The snake was simply being a snake. Not the monster that many said it was.
The cottonmouth is a beautiful example of nature’s heartbeat. It is not an evil monster, and it is not an attacking type of snake at all. It is simply confident and a bit territorial. Either way, it made for a wonderful afternoon of snake watching for me, and allowed me to see for myself the majestic beauty of the legendary cottonmouth.