The last of the cottonmouth-free days


The snakes will be out in full force by Friday. Tomorrow will be the last of the nights below 50 degrees. From Wednesday on it’ll be above 50 degrees overnight, and, as the herpetologists I spoke to after Roo was bitten (it doesn’t seem possible, but four years ago?) explained, as soon as the nighttime temps average over 50, the hungry snakes come back out to party. In most places where there are a lot of snakes, the nonvenomous species outnumber the venomous ones, but there are tons of cottonmouths and copperheads here. There are also rattlesnakes — the most dangerous of the lot — though I’ve never seen one or heard one rattle here. Dr. Stokes tells me that at least the cottonmouth bites aren’t as bad as the rattlers, but Roo was most likely bitten by a copperhead, and that was bad enough.

Last year, I saw the first of the cottonmouths the minute it warmed up, which was about a week earlier. So, I’m sure they’ll be back. See Roo in the water there? That’s one of their favorite spots. If your’e dangling your toes in the water there, the odds are only about two to one that the snake you feel crawling over your skin is a water snake. Every third snake will be a cottonmouth. When they’re out on the water, you can tell the cottonmouths by the way they swim. They’re thick snakes, and their fat bodies ride high on the water, much more so than the more slender, and harmless, water snakes. And, like all pit vipers, they look naturally fearsome, especially when they hiss and gape at you, which is when you see the bright milky white of the inside of their mouths. They are also reputed to be among the most aggressive of snakes. People who love snakes dispute this, but others who have tangled with them dispute that right back.

I’m not looking forward to snake time. Ever since Roo was bitten, I’m tense every minute she walks in snake country. So, once again, it is time to get back on the road.