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water snake (moccasin?) in pond

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  • water snake (moccasin?) in pond

    I have a small-ish (30-40m in diameter) pond in my pasture, near the house. I just bought the property last August, and the sellers told me it was stocked with brim and catfish. They lied to me about a multitude of things with regards to the house, so I don't believe anything they said. I had my handyman over and offered to him that if he wanted to, he's more than welcome to fish my pond when he was done. Which he did, and managed to catch some small brim and catfish (holy crow, the sellers weren't lying). But he also informed me he saw a large (5-6' long) water snake surface and try to eat one of the fish he caught. He was unable to tell if it was just (just, are you kidding?) a water snake, or a moccasin.

    He said the only way to get rid of it is to shoot it. I don't own a gun, but all my neighbors do, and I can probably coerce one of them to come over. But what I need to know is how "emergent" is this situation? Should I have someone over here ASAP? We'd have to lure it out again, probably getting someone to "fish". The horses routinely drink out of that pond, and graze all around it, and I am freaking out.

    Or is this a regular occurrence and I am blowing it out of proportion? Will this be one of those things that once I get rid of this one, another one will move in?

    ETA: I'm new to the gulf coast. We don't have water snakes where I'm from, so this is uncharted territory.

  • #2
    If it was that aggressive at going after the fish, it was most likely a Cottonmouth. I doubt it was 6 feet long. I've seen some big water mocassins, but never one 6 feet long.

    I'd shoot it. It might be years, or never, before you see another one there.

    We lost a horse to one years ago, before we built this farm. It bit him with one fang going into the artery under his jaw that went to his brain. Usually, the bite is not fatal, but if it was me, I'd shoot it.


    • Original Poster

      Unless someone told me I was being completely unreasonable, I'm all over shooting it. The pond is no more than 10' from my backyard and my dogs. The bite may not kill a horse, but it'd almost certainly kill a dog. Yea, I figured the 5-6' was an exaggeration, but still, I got the point that it was no garden snake. And yes, the aggression towards the fish made me really freaked out.

      Any additional suggestions for how to lure it out to shoot it? Are they hard to shoot? (I'm not a gun person, so I have no idea how shooting pests works) I've lived here since August and I have never seen it before; I had no idea it was there and still wouldn't if the guy hadn't told me he saw it. I'd prefer to not have my neighbors sitting on the bank for hours on end just to do me a favor... Though apparently fishing does the trick, so maybe that'll work again.


      • #4
        If you shoot it, another will come along and take it's place. It would be very rare for a cottonmouth to get that big, they are short and stocky . It is probably a water snake but at any rate you can't trap it or lure it out. You'd have to just hunt for it every day and be careful where you step. They rarely kill dogs either but they can make a nasty wound. Your best bet would be to find a hunter who knows what he or she is doing or a reptile person who might want to catch it. If you do kill it (I don't recommend this but...) remember they can still bite after they are dead. Use a shovel to pick it up and bury it out of reach of your dogs.
        Every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.

        Proud Closet Canterer! Member Riders with Fibromyalgia clique.


        • #5
          There's a bunch we don't know, here.

          First, where is the OP? In the Eastern side of the Mocassin range they tend to be somewhat larger than normal (which is around 30" for a male, less for a female). The record was just short of 72" taken in the Dismal Swamp in VA.

          Second, how big was it...really. Judging size on water can be tricky as there is seldom a clear reference.

          Third, if this snake has had a pond full of fish all to itself then a larger size would be reasonable.

          Fourth, is it a cottonmouth or a water snake? Cottonmouths tend to be agressive. If there is a saving grace it's that they have the least toxic venom of the North American pit vipers.

          I'd vote for an ID before eradication. If it's a cottonmouth then it should go. If it's just a water snake leave it be. Of course, don't expect much fishing!

          Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


          • #6
            Another vote for ID before eradication. The Northern Watersnake is far more common than the moccasin and looks very similar to the moccasin.

            But it is harmless.

            It has a very large range in the US.
            Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
            Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
            -Rudyard Kipling


            • #7
              I live in the heart of cotton mouth/moccasin territory. My horse pasture is marsh. I have never had to kill anything. Honestly, 99 percent of the snakes people swear are moccasins tend to be common water snakes. I vote for an ID first.


              • Original Poster

                In south central Louisiana. I don't know exactly how big it was because I didn't see it. It does have a stocked pond full of fish (brim & catfish) all to itself. And turtles (snapping & sliders) and bullfrogs.

                And how can you identify it without catching/shooting/getting close enough to get bitten? I've googled photos of both and they are way too similar (and too many species!) IMO, to tell apart from a brief sighting in the water or on the bank.


                • #9

                  We're in the same area and I've lived here my whole life. I've actually come across a moccasin only once. My advice to you is to be very careful where you put your feet. Keep your grass cut. That sort of thing. This is Louisiana, you will never be rid of them. You just have to find a way to live safely with them.

                  Just to add: I am PETRIFIED of snakes. I am firmly in the "kill it if you see it" camp, but only if you can shoot it. If I can reach it with a shovel, it can probably reach me!


                  • #10
                    Cottonmouths are dark colored pit vipers. They have a thick body and triangle-shaped head. Non-venemous water snakes are much thinner bodied and have smaller heads. Even the non-venemous water snakes are aggressive, so aggression is not how you would tell a cottonmouth from a non-venemous snake. http://www.cottonmouthsnake.org/


                    • #11
                      Just went through the water snake ID thingy a couple of years ago when we got into kayaking. We were seeing big, dark heavy bodied snakes "fishing." We connected with a guy at Davidson College and he determined that we were seeing a hybrid of the Northern Water Snake & Brown Water Snake. Apparently they are cross breeding in a very specific area of the Piedmont because their ranges are overlapping...who knew? They aren't too aggressive, either (unlike the red bellied water snakes who are crazy territorial). We learned all sorts of stuff about snakes from him...such as copperheads around here tend not to be aggressive...you have to antagonize them in most cases.

                      Anyway - this site is specific to NC but has some great photos and info including shots of juveniles, etc. http://www.herpsofnc.org/herps_of_NC...eID/search.asp The guy at DC (who maintains this site) was incredibly helpful, answering emails quickly, etc. I'm sure he'd be glad to help you or connect you to someone close by if he can't.

                      We have a love/hate relationship with snakes around here as they tend to favor baby chicks as snacks. But they do a tremendous job of keeping other vermin in check.


                      • #12
                        We used to have a pond that sounds very similar to yours. We saw lots of the water snakes eating fish but I only remember a water moccasin once. Now you could get an alligator. When Wally moved into our pond, all the snakes disappeared as did the turtles and fish. The pond is mostly dry now and I believe Wally has moved on also.
                        I'm a second hand Vegan. Cows eat grass. I eat cows.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by wireweiners View Post
                          We used to have a pond that sounds very similar to yours. We saw lots of the water snakes eating fish but I only remember a water moccasin once. Now you could get an alligator. When Wally moved into our pond, all the snakes disappeared as did the turtles and fish. The pond is mostly dry now and I believe Wally has moved on also.
                          Only a horse owner would rather have a small gator than a snake in their pond! I despise snakes and cotton mouths in particular. They are incredibly aggressive though not nearly as bad as a coral snake. Having watched Lonesome Dove one too many times I would be the shoot that snake ASAP person. Welcome to the gulf coast though, you'll need to watch for copperheads and maybe rattlers (don't remember how bad they are in Louisiana) as well.
                          Lovely link with pictures and territories of snakes in that area. There is an awesome poster somewhere. I have one of the snakes of Texas that is framed in our house. it has actual pictures of the snake instead of the cartoon mis colored versions you often see. I will see if I can find the link to it.
                          Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                          Originally Posted by alicen:
                          What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Tom King View Post
                            If it was that aggressive at going after the fish, it was most likely a Cottonmouth.
                            Erm, no. That is completely erroneous. All water-dwelling snakes feed on fish. When they are hungry. I am "aggressive" when I am hungry as well. Or tired. Or cold. Or...ok, a lot. Attempting to eat a hooked fish is hardly spectacular behaviour -- I prefer to eat my food when it is restrained from running away too.

                            Water snakes (banded, red-bellied, northern, etc) are FAR more common than cottonmouths and 98% of snakes in water I see both in the field and in response to people's calls/questions are NON-venemous water snake (Nerodia) species. And 99.99999% of reports I receive are completely inaccurate descriptions of the animal actually seen.

                            Learn your basic snake ID correctly, it is very simple. Head shape is a very poor indicator, many non-venemous species will try to use head or behaviour to fool others into THINKING they are sooper skeery!

                            As for coral snakes, ROFL, there are very few snakes LESS scary -- they have tiny (very, very tiny!) mouths and rear fangs and are very secretive little critters. Not to mention they are quite rare.

                            Also, no, a snakebite will not "almost certainly" kill a dog. In most cases, it will make him feel crappy and swell up for a few days, with with timely and appropriate care, he will be fine. There are some fatalities, most often with very small breeds and unsupervised animals.

                            The saddest and most frustrating part of my job is the prevalence of myths that spread like wildfire and people's fervent glee at killing wildlife and only rarely having real cause to. There are problem animals -- a snake feeding on pond fish is not one of them.
                            Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                            Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                            We Are Flying Solo


                            • Original Poster

                              wildlifer; I greatly appreciate your post. I trust you're an "expert", given that you say it's your job? I tried googling and learning as much as I can, but the DNR-esque websites seems to err on the side of caution (understandably), further fueling my paranoia.

                              Originally posted by leilatigress View Post
                              Lovely link with pictures and territories of snakes in that area. There is an awesome poster somewhere.
                              I found this website before I even moved down here and I LOVE it. It has been on my list for months to print out pictures from here to post in the barn, so if you find that poster somewhere, please please please let me know!!

                              I lived for 4 years in CO and therefore developed a very healthy fear of snakes due to the rattlesnakes. Knew several horses who died from bites to the nose and were unable to breathe. So while I realize the venom from a cottonmouth won't kill a horse or a dog, isn't the most likely place to get bitten is the head/nose like with the rattlers?


                              • #16
                                Yes, I am a wildlife biologist.

                                As you correctly observe, most equine deaths from snakebites are indeed from suffocation as a result of swelling around a bite on the nose and yes, bites are most commonly on the nose or lower legs. The former closes the airway -- however, this is fairly easily preventable unless you don't see the horses for chunks of time. Two pieces of sturdy hose cut to length can be placed in the nostrils to keep the airway open so they can breathe until a vet can be summoned.

                                Paranoia is really an unneccessary emotion. I do appreciate that people generally fear what they do not understand and there is a huuuuge education gap where reptiles, especially snakes, are concerned. I love snakes and find them fascinating, beautiful, and much-maligned, as I have a great deal of experience with them -- but I don't expect or even ask everyone to love them and certainly not to hug them.

                                A better mental approach is respect: I respect that venomous snakes have the ability to hurt me, make me very sick, and under the right conditions, kill me. But so do people, water, bunnies, even horses. Random examples, but my point is - context and information.

                                I learned to identify my snakies (and LA did a GREAT job with their webpage!) and when I do encounter, say, a cottonmouth or I know I am in their habitat (I very often work in the water), I am alert to their presence, i.e. I don't attempt to catch them, I don't stick my bare feet in places I can't see, I don't reach into dark places, I walk around one I can see, and I am prepared for accidental encounters (we carry a list and map of all the state's hospitals in the work truck as we travel far and often and have an appropriate first aid kit).

                                But I don't run away screaming (they don't chase, leap, and even I, the slowest person ever who is not allowed to run, can outrun them) and I don't attack, as they do not have malicious intent and there is space for both of us in the world.

                                With pets, they are always supervised outside (i.e. dogs can't wander about in habitat for 8 hours while I am at work). I currently live in the range of only one venomous snake -- copperheads -- but they do not generally inhabit open, grassy fields, so my horses are at little risk. They are much more likely to kill themselves with equine suicidal talent, sigh.

                                But I have lived on the Gulf Coast (TX) and out west in rattlesnake land and I do very much know and respect the need for keeping an eye open at all times. However, it really doesn't have to be a terrified eye. Thousands of horses live in thousands of pond pastures and they aren't dropping dead left and right of snakebite (nor are deer, etc; context).

                                If I confirmed reliably that I had a cottonmouth in a pasture pond, the only thing it would change for me is that I would not let my dogs mess around in said pond unsupervised. If you can't help but be concerned about the horses, you can restrict their pond access (not good for pond anyway, breaks down banks and dam, contaminates, etc) completely or just when you are not home.

                                You certainly can remove said snake, but given your locality, another poster was quite correct in that you will just create a niche for another one to move in. And Snake Wars is no fun for either party.

                                This is all presupposed, of course, on the fact that your reported snake is even a venomous snake at all (I seriously have had a frantic woman try to scream at me that the juvenile RINGNECK SNAKE I was hold was a baby cottonmouth and I was soon to die. They are jet black with a bright ring around their neck. Sigh.). So step 1 is -- just look. Pictures are great. Talk to your DNR, they have some great folks (even some old friends of mine). Then go from there. :-)

                                I'm always happy to answer any questions or offer any help I can, so feel free to msg. If I sound peeved when I post, it's because it's such a longstanding theme in human-wildlife interface and it can make a person crazy!
                                Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                We Are Flying Solo


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by morganpony86 View Post
                                  And how can you identify it without catching/shooting/getting close enough to get bitten? I've googled photos of both and they are way too similar (and too many species!) IMO, to tell apart from a brief sighting in the water or on the bank.
                                  I agree. And I see them all the time. The venomous kind have a rough appearance because their scales are keeled. And they have an elliptical pupil. Which is to say - good luck identifying the son of a gun without getting in striking range.

                                  I can't believe I'm about to say this - I almost always stick up for the reptilian-americans among us - but get one of your gun-toting neighbors to shoot it. Seriously. You live in South La. No one is going to miss a snake or twelve.

                                  Cottonmouths, like all water snakes, are aggressive. IME, they will go after anything that comes within about a meter. Nasty venom. I have a friend who lost half a finger to necrosis after a cottonmouth bite. He said it was the worst bite he'd ever had (this same guy gets bitten by copperheads fairly regularly and says cottonmouth bites are an order of magnitude more painful). I wouldn't want to have to fool with treating a horse who'd been bitten.

                                  Although - I will say cottonmouths generally spit and hiss and make lots of noise when they come for whatever ticked them off. It might be a horse would get the heck away fast enough not to get tagged. But if it were my horse and my pond? I'd have someone shoot it.
                                  I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show


                                  • #18
                                    PS -- I work for our state wildlife agency and we print snake, amphibian, and fish ID posters. Other animals (bats, birds, etc) are available in poster form from several different universities. So if I were you, I would contact both in search of posters. Do remember that there is also a LOT of color variation in reptiles so the pictures usually represent the most commonly seen animal of the species. For example, in NC, the cottonmouth can range from almost black (but they are never shiny, glossy black anywhere) to a quite vivid orange and yellow-based colour scheme in our sandhills. But their patterns and key identifying marks are always the same and your DNR biologists can tell you what to reliably look for.
                                    Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                    Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                    We Are Flying Solo


                                    • #19
                                      For identification purposes...Water moccacins/Cotton mouths are the ONLY snake that swims ON TOP of the water...not just with their head out. And they are mean as HELL!! Very aggressive. We have two creeks that cross our property. Two years ago I killed (verified) 25 WM's. Last year 15. So far this year only one. My dogs love to swim in the creek and I'm terrified to think one will get bitten. A DEAD WM is a good WM!! Note: young WMs are brightly marked...as they age they fade to black/dark gray. The small, young ones are more deadly. I have done a LOT of research on these critters!!!
                                      Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by crosscreeksh View Post
                                        For identification purposes...Water moccacins/Cotton mouths are the ONLY snake that swims ON TOP of the water...not just with their head out.
                                        Sigh. Sorry, this is not true either. All water-dwelling snakes can dive or change their buoyancy.

                                        It is true that bites from juvenile snakes can inject more venom than those from adults -- young animals tend to be more reactive and release all their venom at once, where as "wiser" adults will "save" their venom for prey and only give a dry bite or a small amount of venom in a defensive strike, as it is energetically expensive to produce more. This is most common in copperheads.
                                        Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                        Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                        We Are Flying Solo