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Moccasins  at Cabela's


Author: Sugar Ferris

As I waited in the "tasty tostada" line, I heard a small kid ask, 'Mommy, what kind of snake is that in the picture?' I glanced at the wall poster the kid was pointing to.

Moccasins can be more show than danger, but don't count on it.
Can you imagine? It pictured a sunning cottonmouth moccasin. Under the picture were large letters stating: Endangered! 'Hummmm...' I thought to myself, 'Endangered?'

Before I could speak, the mommy blurted out, "that's the best news I've heard in a blue moon." It was not the time for me to tell her that the person who had titled the poster was full of bean dip. I mean, you never know when an entire room of moccasin huggers might be crawling around. My apologies to all I might offend here, but I carry no animosity for venomous creatures. Before I could tell her that the poster message was a complete lie, she and the kid were led away to their table.

The author of Cougar, Harold Danz, probably had the woman's number when he wrote: "Although anthropopathy (assigning human characteristics to inhuman forms) is a somewhat common and usually harmless notion, unfortunately it has intensified a human perception that there are both 'good' and 'bad' animals -- a judgement based on their behavior as a measure against human standards of conduct."

Anthropopathy has such a nice ring to it, and I've been pumping up to use it, especially when you blame moccasins for being monsters. Down, boy! Down bad, bad pit viper. I certainly wouldn't want to be in this woman's way if she were to meet a moccasin sunning itself along a hiking trail; or one that might drop into her boat while she was fishing; or realizing she is sharing a duck blind with more than she intended.

In the U.S., most snakebites occur when the victim is either holding a snake or attempting to pick up or kill it. The more natural the habitat, the greater the chance of encountering a venomous snake. Nationwide most fatal snakebites are attributed to the cottonmouth, the western rattlesnake and both the eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Bites from unseen snakes in the wild may be prevented by common sense and proper dress. Boots and coarse long trousers should be worn in such areas. Most bites that occur in the wild are on the extremities. Do not put your hands or feet in places that you have not visually examined first. At night, your path should always be lighted to make snakes visible since many venomous snakes are nocturnal.

A person bitten by a venomous snake should remove all jewelry first in order to avoid problems from the swelling, which occurs immediately. The traditional cut-and-suck first-aid methods for snakebite are subject to serious doubt, because they involve cutting and constriction of blood flow, they can do more harm than good. Self-treatment is likely to worsen an already serious condition. Keep calm and still, and do not delay in getting to a hospital.

While a number of poisonous snakes are found around the water, everything that slithers across the creek isn't a moccasin. Rattle snakes are also excellent swimmers. Whenever possible, the snake responsible for the bite should be brought to the medical facility for purposes of identification. It is better to avoid a second bite, however, if the snake doesn't want to cooperate. And neither capture nor first-aid measures should delay transport of the patient to the hospital.

At the hospital, encourage the medical staff to call a poison-control center for expert advice on snakebite treatment. Because snakebites are uncommon in the United States, relatively few medical personnel have experience in treating them.

But let's get real here. Most snake bites occur from bites while people are handling the snakes. Simple solution. Don't handle snakes. Give them a wide berth, and contrary to popular belief, the notion that the only good snake is a dead snake is simply not so. Snakes are important to the ecology. Similar snakes are often mistaken for moccasins simply because they share the same aquatic habitats. Cottonmouths behave different than their look-alike cousins. They are less agile and sometimes hold their ground and gape openmouthed when threatened. A moccasin also swims in a leisurely fashion with its entire body floating buoyantly and its head lifted slightly above the surface, angled forward.

The most widespread story about cottonmouths concern the water-skier purportedly killed by a flurry of bites after tumbling into a nest of these reptiles. For years, assorted versions of this fictitious event have circulated in boating circles, but no hospital or news agency in Texas has ever recorded the death of a water-skier from a multiple cottonmouth envenomation.

The cottonmouth, when threatened, will usually hold their ground and gape openmouthed in threat. Although some members of this species show little fear of humans, most retreat before larger mammals, with few pausing to threaten an intruder with open jaws if they have a way to escape. This gape is usually a rather passive defensive gesture, and since such wide-jawed cottonmouths often fail to strike even when prodded with a boot, it is considerably less dangerous than similar-sized rattlesnakes, among whom, such forbearance would be unlikely.

In rural and wilderness areas, snake visitors are most common in late summer when rodent populations allow for easy hunting. Snakes go where the food is. Because most rodent predators are large, often more than one meter in total length, their presence does not go unnoticed for long. Waterside vacation cottages, hunter's cabins and camp trailers can also experience an abundance of fish- and frog-eating snakes in midsummer, when tadpoles aggregate at the water's edge.

Though it may be of little comfort, remember when you step outside and meet up with a moccasin, you are invading the snake's space as much as it's invading yours. There are also poisonous insects. How often do outdoor people die of a spider bite? Well, in point of fact, just once. And poisonous plants? What do fern fondlers do with the mere notion that we need to save poke salad?

Hug a snake? Uh-um, not me! But, each time we go afield or afloat, we need to give our best to the sport we are pursuing, the environment and ourselves, even when it comes to some of us observing character qualities, or their absence, in animals. The grizzly bear is not brave, the wolf is not loyal, the cougar is not cowardly and the moccasin is not evil. But a bit of a warning here -- don't get in my way if you're following behind me and I come across a wide-jawed cottonmouth. Otherwise, you'll be the one that's endangered!

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