Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do Cottonmouths Really Drop Into Boats?

As the blog archive is getting larger (and older), I plan to occasionally alert new readers to posts that have gotten buried but may be of interest. Today, we will revisit one of the most commonly repeated Cottonmouth myths: that this snake is fond of dropping from branches into boats. Here is a post that first ran nearly two years ago, Cottonmouth Myths I: Snakes Dropping Into Boats.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Seven Foot Rattlesnake Killed Near Climax, Georgia

This story (and I use the term loosely) about an "approximately" seven-foot (2.1 m) Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus, killed near Climax, Georgia came to my attention months ago but it slipped through the cracks. It's a good case study for demonstrating how newspapers A) exaggerate (the snake is closer to four feet long) and/or B) don't fact check information about rattlesnakes. 

The article also demonstrates how newspapers help glorify the killing of our native wildlife. In this case, the individual that killed the snake (not the guy pictured) had never been to the southeastern United States (he was there for a reunion) and killing the animal (which is found nowhere else in the entire world) was a "true southern adventure".

Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes can be found in the coastal plain of the southeastern United States. However, at the edges of their range, like in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, they are extremely rare. The species is also in trouble in the heart of their range, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to give the species federal protection. 

Threats to the species include incidental killings (like the one pictured above) and rattlesnake roundups, because they both encourage others to have a lack of respect and empathy for wildlife. The major threat however, as with most other rare species, is habitat loss. Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes prefer pine forests with a relatively open canopy (with some hardwood trees thrown in here and there) that experience occasional ground fires to maintain an open understory. Unfortunately, many forests of this type have been converted to pine plantations, agriculture, or have been paved over. For the forests that remain, many have been managed without fire. This results in the hardwood trees crowding out the pine trees and the understory becoming dense and unsuitable for Eastern Diamondbacks.

If you're in Georgia, Florida, or Alabama, try to find a large chunk of longleaf pine forest and take a walk through. You'll be amazed at the diversity of wildlife that can be found in these forests, which are so open they've been described as a savannah with some pine trees scattered around. As you might expect, the habitat is unique; and many of the species living there can be found nowhere else. You might even come across an Eastern Diamondback, perhaps sunning itself outside of a tortoise burrow. If you do, observe from a distance and try to appreciate the opportunity to watch the world's largest rattlesnake in its natural habitat. 

Now that is what I would call a true southern adventure.