Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

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simus343
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Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by simus343 » September 11th, 2014, 4:19 pm

So for a Zoology class research project I have selected Water Moccasins as my species of focus.

I am going to get one important thing clear: At no time during this project or after am I going to be interacting with the Water Moccasins in any way except for strictly observing them from a safe distance. For two reasons: First and most importantly, its Florida law that I do so unless I have a venomous permit and two, because I am required to not interact with my observation animal.
Now saying this, should the snake see me and go into defensive posture, as long as the snake did this without me directly influencing it to do so except through my mere presence, this is acceptable for my project guidelines.

I am to take note of appearance, and behavior. As stated above I am not to elicit any behavior that the Water Moccasin does not engage in by its own will (I can't pester a defensive response out of one basically - which is down right dumb to begin with haha).

The objective of the project field work, regardless of animal species, is to observe the animal species for a minimum of 5 hours. Not look for it for 5 hours, but actually sit and watch various individuals of that species for 5 hours. Currently I have completed 3 hours and 30 minutes. The project is not due for 2 months. I have a location where I have always seen at least 1 water moccasin every single time I have ever gone there since August of last year. This site, another site along the same creek, and my backyard are where I have done all of my observations so far.

Why am I posting here? I want to know some further tips about finding water moccasins so that I may more reliably find them in other locations that I know for a fact that the species is present at.

I have observed that during daylight hours, between 10am and 6pm, during weather and temperatures that Florida is currently experiencing, based off of observing the Water Moccasins at my reliable site, tend to be on little islands within swamps and river/swamps on relatively dry areas with full or partial shade on sunny days. On rainy days the number seen "basking" is significantly lower and I am presuming this is because most are taking advantage of the cooler weather and hunting, or they are closer to solid shore in case the water level rises and flood their little swamp islands. During early morning they seem to be active, with most seen in the water sitting or swimming between locations. In the evening I have seen a majority of sighted Water Moccasins in areas where calling Green Frogs are highest in concentration - likely because of frogs and also fish amassing in locations with small "swarms" of insects on which they feed until the Water Moccasins get them, this is just my guess.

I have done a lot of research on the natural history of Water Moccasins as well for part of the project, but nothing I have read yet is quite as detailed as what I have written above. If anyone knows a lot about Water Moccasin ecology and can either correct some of what I have written into a more generalized sense, as my activity notes above are based off of a single site, or can recommend any books in which I can find more accurate and detailed information on Water Moccasin activity, that would be much appreciated.

Thank you :D .

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PrimitiveTim
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by PrimitiveTim » September 11th, 2014, 7:24 pm

I'm no pro, but I would suggest looking in dryer areas around the swamp in addition to what you're already doing. I'm not sure how big these islands are but I've seen them out coiled sitting in some pretty dry places where there wasn't really any swamp in the immediate area.

simus343
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by simus343 » September 12th, 2014, 10:25 am

Well I have just finished searching a swamp at work for Water Moccasins. Started at 7:53am and ended about 1:05pm. I searched the swamp based on the habits I noted at the "river-swamp" and found nothing. I also searched dry areas above from water level as you recommended Tim, and found nothing - not saying it didn't work, as I too have seen a good number of moccasins up a fair distance from water in dry areas, I just didn't find any today. I will say the amount of vegetation is much more dense and there is a whole lot more holes in the ground resulting from dead trees. I have seen Water Moccasins of various sizes from neonate yearlings to very large adults, I just didn't turn any up today. I will note that the water level of the swamp is lower than usual, about 5 inches lower, and a lot of normally submerged areas were dry, and very exposed. When the water level is higher, which is also when I see more Water Moccasins in this swamp, the water seems to be flowing at a slow, but visible, space.

This brings me to something else that I have noted about Water Moccasins in Northwest Florida, it seems they are either more abundant or more active in areas closer to flowing water. While seen around all types of water bodies I have found them most common in slow flowing water bodies closer to larger (maybe 10 feet wide) and faster flowing water bodies. It could be a preference that local populations have developed, perhaps because of more food, less predation or both; or it could just be a coincidence that I find more in slow or still waters near "medium" to faster waters. Has anyone noted anything similar to this in other areas?

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Noah M
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Noah M » September 12th, 2014, 2:13 pm

I've been in Florida for only a few years, and most of the observations of the cottonmouth I have seen is that they are found near water, but not necessarily swamp. Seems like pond & lake edges, roadside ditches, and swamps all play host to this species, largely because of their diet. Probably 85% of the ones I've seen were DOR, with another 10% AOR, and only 5% elsewhere. They really are not skilled at crossing the road.

The most interesting behavior was this.
Here is one playing daredevil asking to become road bacon as it eats a DOR frog (probably a leopard frog).
Image

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BillMcGighan
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by BillMcGighan » September 12th, 2014, 3:03 pm

Of limited help:

Some of the old authors, some old even when I was a kid, did a nice job of adding natural history anecdotes to their books; an art lost.

One such story Raymond L Ditmars tells about moccasins (Reptiles of North America) is when he went into a river swamp where water had been low for a while. He found water snakes and water moccasins around the drying pools where the fish were holding on.

Where these pools had dried, he found the water snakes restless and moving, while the moccasins remained in their usual positions.

Ditmar’s possible explanation for the moccasins not seeming stressed came when a captured moccasin regurgitated a water snake.

I read this in 1964, but it wasn’t till 1974 that I experienced the same drying pools, cruising water snakes, and seemingly complacent moccasins on the west side of the Apalachicola River!

Coluber Constrictor
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Coluber Constrictor » September 12th, 2014, 4:10 pm

Seems like the shallower and muckier the water, the better. They seem to really like temporary swamps/ponds, and roadside ditches.

The most moccasin-infested place I have seen is actually a small oak ridge overlooking a marsh. Quite a few pygmy rattlers there too.

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PrimitiveTim
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by PrimitiveTim » September 12th, 2014, 9:03 pm

That's interesting you mention the flowing bodies of water and that you're in NW Florida. Only ones I've seen around were near Tallahassee and they were near a big spring run that had small springs running into the main run. These moccasins weren't on the edge of the run but back in the woods a little ways where it was wet but not underwater. The forest floor there was fairly open as the tall cypress and tupelo were keeping the forest floor pretty shaded. These were found in the summer.

simus343
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by simus343 » September 13th, 2014, 8:25 am

As far as the ones around swamps what are some good recommendations for finding them in swamps? Roadside ditches seems pretty strait forward so I think I can figure that one out haha :lol:. The only ones I seem to be able to find in "swamp swamps" are by chance. Around lakes on Eglin I can turn them up rather easily, but not in large numbers as around river swamps and flooded floodplains where I can find over 10 with no effort on a good day, in less than an hour. Other lakes around golf courses and housing areas seem to turn up nothing though, they are too frequented, very little shore vegetation, and the Water Moccasins are heavily prosecuted.

Also thanks for the tip for research Bill. I'll try asking some of my older friends and professors if they have any older books that I could flip through or borrow.

Coluber Constrictor
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Coluber Constrictor » September 13th, 2014, 11:02 am

Flipped one next to a corn snake awhile back. Abandoned house several hundred yards from water.

ImageCorn Snake and Moccasin by Coluber Constrictor, on Flickr

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Matt S.
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Matt S. » September 13th, 2014, 4:38 pm

Coluber Constrictor wrote:Flipped one next to a corn snake awhile back. Abandoned house several hundred yards from water.

ImageCorn Snake and Moccasin by Coluber Constrictor, on Flickr
I really like the coloration of that corn snake (reminds me of Halloween for some reason). Is that typical for your area?

As far as observing cottomouths, I don't have much more to add to what others have said. You seem to have a pretty good bead on their typical daily patterns in bottom swamps. As others have said, it might be worth it to check out some beaver ponds, wet weather ponds, ephemeral ponds, etc.. I have to admit that I have not really targeted cottomouths but I have seen them in these areas fairly regularly. I have seen several basking on beaver dams and on small "islands" of sphagnum around myrtle-leaved holly trees in ephemeral ponds. This is usually during cooler times of the year so it might not be something you could use now.

Good luck!

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Noah M
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Noah M » September 14th, 2014, 7:05 am

My wife actually just sent this to me. It may not help you find them, but I found the article to be interesting.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_an ... ts_of.html

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BillMcGighan
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by BillMcGighan » September 14th, 2014, 7:21 am

I love it that Harry mentions the Moccasin/water ski story that has been around for a million years:
The biggest, scariest cottonmouth-related myth—the writhing mass—has persisted perhaps since the dawn of water skiing. The setting: a lake in a southern state. The action: a guy is water skiing. (Sometimes it’s a girl in a bikini, sometimes it’s a lovable young mother of four children out boating with her family, talked into trying water skiing for the first time.) The boat takes too slow a turn and the skier sinks in shallow water. He’s fearful because he’d heard there was some rusty barbed wire underwater. He realizes, horribly, that it’s not barbed wire; it’s a nest of cottonmouths. When pulled into the boat, he’s half-dead, bitten 40, maybe 50, times. In some versions the cottonmouths are still holding on all over his body.
I've heard a minor variation this story repeated for fact (even personalized) as far north as Wisconsin and as far west as California.

The other most common is the boy fishing being bitten by worms which are supposedly baby copperheads.

There are many stories, but these two really permeate the non-herp outdoor lovers.

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Noah M
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by Noah M » September 15th, 2014, 10:22 am

I sent you a PM, I have some articles I can share with you but can't upload them here.

One of them is

Young - Foraging Cues Used by Insular Florida Cottonmouths

and the other is

Allen - Cottonmouth moccasin of Florida (Yes, that Allen, from 1948)

simus343
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Re: Finding Agkistrodon piscovorous?

Post by simus343 » September 16th, 2014, 6:40 am

Thanks captainjack, I sent you an email - I don't think it is the one registered to FHF but I check it more regularly to stay on top of academic and work related topics.

Another interesting old water moccasin story from within my family, that did happen on a southern lake, but no one got bit. My grandmother grew up on an oxbow lake of the Mississippi River in Mississippi. She was on a little floating dock that her dad had built in the lake along with her brothers and cousins. Her other family members on the shore realized that the water was rising at an alarming pace and had them swim back to shore, but they were interrupted. The lake was "filled" with water moccasins all around. Her dad and uncles took large objects and hit at the water, likely striking a few snakes in the process, to disperse the cottonmouths so that the children on the mid-lake dock could swim back to shore. Apparently there had been a heavy rain upriver from them that caused the river to rise, flooding the banks. My grandmother isn't one to make up stories, but this is the only one that I question because of the large amount of snakes going one direction all at pretty much the same time. However, perhaps the snakes were moving to higher ground because their previous locations had been submerged? That is my guess at a way to rationalize the event, that makes some sort of sense.

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