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Some thoughts on snakes and identification.

May 29, 2013

Close to the sea, Georgia’s low lands were mostly uninhabited. There were no rows of houses with humongous wooden docks like in Florida. In fact, there were no services, no marinas, no bridges and very few boaters for long stretches.

Since human interference on the coast of the State of Georgia was limited by the very impractical nature of the geography, the coast retained much of its fauna. I was looking forward to crossing a pristine natural setting, but I also knew dogs were referred to as “alligator snacks”. The mud banks were often marked by beastly tracks, and snakes were a common subject of conversation.

The venomous snakes of Georgia include the cottonmouth, Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus), Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), Canebrake/Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) and the Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius). I knew nothing of snakes but I was expected to differentiate them from two dozen non-venomous snakes that had other exotic names such as the Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus), Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea), Black Racer (Coluber constrictor), Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus), Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi), Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata), Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta), Mud Snake (Farancia abacura), Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma), Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Southern Hognose Snake (Heterodon simus), Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster), Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), Milk Snake/Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum), Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum), Red-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster), Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata), Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana), Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota), Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus), Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus), Striped Crayfish Snake (Regina alleni), Glossy Crayfish Snake (Regina rigida), Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata), Pine Woods Snake (Rhadinaea flavilata), Black Swamp Snake (Seminatrix pygaea), Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi), Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata), Florida Brown Snake (Storeria victa), Southeastern Crowned Snake (Tantilla coronata), Central Florida Crowned Snake (Tantilla relicta), Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus), Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), Rough Earth Snake (Virginia striatula) and let’s not forget the Smooth Earth Snake (Virginia valeriae).

Be aware that this venomous species list is not exhaustive. There are many subspecies. For instance the cottonmouth is divided in three subspecies: the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus), the Florida Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti) and the Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma).

To make things more interesting, the names of the snakes are not really well known by the general population. The Cottonmouth is sometimes called the Water Moccasin. Some people say that the two names refer to the same snake while other people promise that they are entirely different creatures.

I think that the fact that the Georgia State venomous snake pamphlet hints that we should know how to differentiate these snakes, is marked by surprising optimism. To be honest, I don’t think that even the most anal ninetieth century Jesuit botanists would have bothered to learn them all.

Initially, I tried to learn to identify the widely feared Water Moccasin but I found out that it could have different appearances depending on the season, sex and age. I suspected that this would be true for a large part of the shake species so I chose to treat all snakes as if they were venomous.

Since I did not know how to spot snakes, identification was never much of a concern. I saw snakes only if they happened to be on bare ground in daylight. I don’t see how anyone could spot them when they are submerged, in tall weeds or submerged in tall weeds. That may explain why people don’t generally walk in submerged tall weeds or even on mud banks, but that may have to do with the alligators patiently waiting for you and your poodle; besides, it’s muddy!

A bite from a venomous snake like the water moccasin meant death since I was often more than a day away from help. Even if help was close at hand, I had no means of communication. Given that a bite from a water moccasin required an injection of what I was told is a scarcely stocked antivenin within 40 minutes, I figured that prevention was the way to go. You would think that all medical facilities would have the antivenin but it doesn’t make sense for the profit-driven hospitals to keep stocks of an expensive product, which probably has a short shelf life, that they would have to inject to people that may not be able afford it or live long enough to pay for it.

From → Chapter 3, Xyz

  1. Sarah Jalbert permalink

    Tu as maintenant une nouvelle lectrice! J’essaierai de rattraper le temps perdu (tes autres posts) quand j’aurai plus de temps!

    Bonne continuation!

    PS. C’est la libraire du Renaud-Bray qui t’écrit en passant 😉

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