Thursday, June 15, 2017

Comic Strip: Cottonmouth Myth and Facts ---Guest Post----

      I’m a science writer and cartoonist, and I’m passionate about snakes. When Dr. David Steen asked me to collaborate on a comic about cottonmouths, I jumped at the chance. Through my work, I love sharing snake facts, including the difference between “venomous” and “poisonous” species (hint: only a few special types are poisonous). I also enjoy celebrating cool behaviors, such as tail-rattling in non-venomous species that are totally bluffing—they don’t even have rattles! Why am I so excited to write about, talk about, and draw these animals? Why did it have to be snakes?

    You can probably blame my mom. She’s an intrepid outdoorsperson, and she frequently took me to the woods when I was little, where she helped me flip rocks and uncover little gartersnakes and ring-necked snakes. The critters were tiny, so vulnerable that they had to be handled with care—gently supported and allowed to climb from finger to finger. These outdoor lessons helped me understand that even as a tiny girl, I had to be respectful of wildlife, because I was still big enough to intimidate some animals.

    Or, you could blame my pet snake, Snack. She was a gorgeous cornsnake that a friend rescued from a hoarding situation, and she was never totally healthy; despite my best efforts, she passed away just six years after I got her. But watching her behavior taught me valuable lessons. Snakes are never mean. They can’t be vindictive. They have a simple suite of needs, and they spend their time cautiously exploring their habitat and conserving their energy—and, lucky for us, being absurdly beautiful.

    Or, you could blame my friends who love snakes. One of them connected me with an organization that leads reptile-specific field trips. That’s how I found myself standing in a southern longleaf pine forest one sweaty afternoon last June alongside a half-dozen hikers, gazing in awe at my first diamondback rattlesnake. I was face to face with an animal that had inspired fear throughout history. But then I looked more carefully. I could see that this individual was young, and it was getting ready to shed—an especially vulnerable time for snakes, since they also shed scales over their eyes, and their vision is temporarily impaired. Furthermore, it was living in a protected forest surrounded by damaged and destroyed habitat. Logging trucks roared nearby. Airplanes zoomed overhead. Cellphones chimed. Down in the grass, the diamondback sat curled and silent, defensive, not aggressive. As we snapped photos (respectfully, from a distance), it was pretty clear which species had the upper hand.

    I’ve learned a lot from snakes, so it’s only right to pay it forward.

About the Author: A science communicator and naturalist, Rosemary has created cartoons at and, served in communications roles for groups such as NPS and Mass Audubon, written for nature publications, and led unique field walks. Her graphic novel Solar Systems comes out via First Second Books in 2018. Her favorite snake is the Speckled Racer.

This collaboration was made possible thanks to an award from the Mindlin Foundation. For more about Cottonmouth Myths on this blog, click here.

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