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The Banded Water Snake: Often Confused With The Cottonmouth Water Moccasin

 

The banded water snake, Nerodia fasciata fasciata, is a north Florida native. It is often confused with the cottonmouth water moccasin. Unfortunately, this error leads to many which are killed on sight.

 

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

Appearances, as the old saying goes, can be deceiving. If the owner of a certain look has the guise of something beneficial or someone famous, then the deception can be a real plus.

Nature is replete with examples where one species benefits from its appearance which is a close approximation of another. Monarch and Viceroy butterflies are a good example.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true too. A species which appears similar to another less than desirable species may be summarily, and incorrectly,  branded a problem and roughly treated as such, especially if the unlucky creature is a snake.

No creature appears to embody slimy, malevolent evil as much as a snake.  It is no coincidence the devil took on the form of this reptile in the Garden of Eden.

The slanted unblinking eyes, the silent movement, and the consistently flicking tongue combine to project the essence of wicked intentions.  It is no wonder Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise with friends like this.

Most other cultures since the dawn of time have had the same perception of snakes.  Apep was the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness who was illustrated as a snake, and was the chief nemesis of the sun god Ra. There battles were epic legends.

The Greeks renamed the deity Apophis after Alexander the Great took control of Egypt.  Serpentine reputations did not improve with the change of governments.

As a continuation of the ancient tradition, the near-earth and potentially hazardous asteroid 99942 was named Apophis.  Some astrophysics believe this 1000 foot wide chuck of space rock will collide with Earth in 2029 or 2036 leaving a three mile deep impact crater.

No doubt future headlines will scream “A Rock Named After A Snake Did This.”  Who could blame the public for its dislike of snakes?

Many local discussions of snakes begin with the statement, “The only good snake is a dead snake.” Next the tales of deadly snake encounters are relived.

When a snake is mistakenly identified as the common venomous species, the cottonmouth water moccasin, the reactions are fairly predictable. Regrettably many similarly appearing water snakes have met an untimely end for the offence of only appearing dangerous.

To the observant and discerning person, there are several easily identifiable characteristics which would prevent the lethal generalization about all brown snakes found near water. The mistake removes a useful creature which helps maintain the balance of nature here in Wakulla County.

Snakes are natural predators, but humans have never been on the menu in north Florida. Amphibians, insects, small reptiles, rabbits and rodents make up a bulk of their diet.

A Wakulla County without snakes would be a very different and much less inhabitable place.  Without snakes controlling the excess populations, destructive mammals and insects would have free range to dine on innumerable components of humanity’s infrastructure and foodstuffs.

Maybe they are not the most popular animals, but they do have a purpose here.  Adam and Eve, and everyone else, is much better off just leaving the snakes alone.

To learn more about snakes in Wakulla County contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/.