|The range of the Cottonmouth.|
Anyway, the Cottonmouth is indeed dangerous, however they don't pose a threat to a cautious human aware of their surroundings. Although they are supposed to be highly aggressive (which is a myth), Cottonmouths, like all venomous snakes (and snakes in general), prefer to not attack anything they deem a threat. There's a few reasons for this. When a snake goes to bite you, it risks breaking a fang/tooth, which can lead to a much harder time obtaining food. Also, by biting any sort of animal, a snake opens itself up to being attack, and possibly killed, out of defense. When the ultimate goal of life is passing on your genetics as much as possible, dying is obviously something to avoid. In addition, when it comes to venomous snakes, venom is expensive to produce energy-wise. They use this venom to hunt, and therefore they want to conserve venom (and therefore energy) and use it only when needed. Needlessly wasting venom when it could just slither away is a silly choice for a snake to make.
So, when would a snake bite then? Generally speaking, a snake will bite when it feels that its life is in immediate danger from you, and that the only way to escape this danger is to try and fight the threat off. It is important to note that the biting threshold varies not only from species to species, but also from individual to individual. Regardless, picking a snake up, poking it, stepping on it, attempting to move it, and other such actions usually push the snake past that threshold, and a snake will be very apt to bite from then on out. When it comes to the Cottonmouth, one study found that they would essentially only bite if they were picked up with a mechanical hand. If you give a snake space, and let it have obvious means of escape, then it will simply leave you alone. This includes Cottonmouths.
Cottonmouths also have another line of defense. The name "Cottonmouth" stems from their threat display; when confronted by a potential threat, they open their mouth to reveal a startling-white inner-covering. This white stands out in stark contrast to the browns and greens of the vegetation which you might see them among. It's meant to not only catch your attention, but to also suggest that it's a dangerous creature and not one to mess with. Essentially, the potential threat (in this case me) is supposed to think that this snake wouldn't obviously expose itself unless it had a good way to protect itself. It's the same principle as the brightly-colored Monarch, a poisonous butterfly.
|A harmless Northern Watersnake, NOT a Cottonmouth!|
Photo by Alayna Tokash.
The Cottonmouth was a very exciting snake to see, and I'm incredibly happy I ran across one while on my trip. Although many people hate the Cottonmouth, they really pose no threat to the person who's aware of their surroundings and who gives these snakes their space. That's it for this post! Thanks for reading!