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Cottonmouth Combat in a North Carolina Swamp – Behind The Scenes Interview

Photo courtesy of Buddy Rogers
Hey all, last week I received an e-mail from Buddy Rogers of North Carolina because he wanted to share some pictures he took of two Cottonmouths fighting in a canal. So cool! I hope you will head on over to Earth Touch to check out the article I wrote about what Buddy saw. I interviewed Buddy for that piece but wasn’t able to include everything there; I hope you’ll enjoy this “behind-the-scenes” material!
How long did the fight go on (at least how long you watched)?

They were going at it when we first saw them.  According to my picture data we watched them go at it for about 7 minutes. 
What was going through your mind when you first realized that all the commotion/splashing was due to watching two snakes?

When my buddy, David Pearce spotted them they were about 100 yards away.   He asked if I had ever seen two snakes fighting.  To me it looked like two birds like cormorants.  When I put the zoomed camera on them I saw it was two snakes.  I had never seen anything like it before but David has many hours experience in herpetology and was familiar with what they were doing.  I couldn’t get over how big they were.   I kept thinking and saying that these things are huge!  I would guess they were both in the 4 feet long range give or take some inches.
You mentioned that you observed a third snake near the fight; did it do anything other than sit there? Did the victor head towards this third snake after the fight?

David said that there was a female around there somewhere.  When we got closer to them he spotted it lying in the grass just above the waterline.  The third snake may have seen us because it slowly moved deeper into the grass where I couldn’t see it.  I did get a couple of pictures of it before it moved.  The pictures show a hole in the bank behind it which might have been its den.   (? )

The victor did stay around this location moving deeper into the flooded grass but while we were there it was still in the water
Most people that saw something like this would probably be scared or even want to kill the snakes. Why did you have a different reaction? 

A couple of years ago I took up the hobby of nature photography.  I try to take advantage of any chance I can to take some pictures.  The snakes were in a deep canal and I knew they wouldn’t give me a problem if I stayed on top of the steep ditch bank.  I was more afraid they would get spooked and quit what they were doing before I could get some pictures. 
The thought of killing them never entered my mind.  I might have had a different feeling about that if I had found them in my backyard.  These snakes were miles away from anyone’s home.  Also we didn’t have anything that could have hurt them and I know as much as my buddy loves snakes he wouldn’t have hurt them under any conditions.
Were you surprised by all the interest there was in the pictures and video you shared on Facebook?

I really am!  It’s been a little over a week now and the views and comments on Facebook are still steadily clicking away.  I’ve been posting nature pictures for a couple of years and I would bet that the views from this would outnumber the ones from all of my other posts.   I have gotten comments from as far away as Denmark.
What were some of the common comments you received after sharing the pictures and video?

I would say that the most common comment has been “Why didn’t you kill them” or people posting how they would have killed them.  Some have even been on the angry side that we hadn’t killed them.  It also seemed that the majority of the opinion about the activity was that these two snakes in the water were mating.  When I replied to their comment by giving a link to a website whichdescribed this behavior about half of these changed their minds.  But some had their minds made up.

Like I said before I’m not a snake person but since witnessing this I have tried to do the research and learn what I could.  But still, as I was watching this I just knew that it was not mating.  Maybe the pictures just don’t show the aggression and almost competition in the way they would stand up beside each other before wrapping around each other. 

I’d say that 25% or so of the comments were defending the snake’s rights to live and the benefits of having these creatures around.

 It was also surprising how many people argued that these were not cottonmouth but water snakes.  There was never a doubt in my mind that is what they were.
Have you learned anything about snakes in the process of observing these animals and sharing your pictures?

I have learned a lot about snake behavior.  I have also learned there is a lot about snakes that people either have the wrong idea about or have just been misinformed.   I have read a lot of stuff related to them and probably spent way too much time trying to change the minds of people on Facebook.  It’s clearly people are interested for one reason or another or I wouldn’t have seen so much response on my posts.

I still doubt that I’ll be tromping in any swamps looking for snakes but if I do happen on one … or two… or even a ball of them I hope I have my camera.

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