They are the stuff of nightmares, nefarious creatures that roam the swamps and rivers of South Florida.
This area of the Sunshine State is literally swarming with potentially dangerous snakes, but one stands out as having a particularly nasty disposition.
Stocky when fully grown, cotton moccasins may be the most feared snakes in a state that includes Burmese, pygmy and eastern diamond pythons, copperheads, and the potentially deadly coral snake (a single drop of their venom can be toxic to an adult adult).
So why cottonmouths? Why has society painted this poisonous snake as the meanest of all?
We spoke with noted field biologist Paul Gray, a scientist at Audubon Florida, to get a better idea of how these infamous snakes behave.
Are these efficient hunters really bad? Do you hate humans?
“I stepped on one in my backyard while I was barefoot,” Gray said. “They are not aggressive at all.”
Gray said cottonmouths are very afraid of humans because “they don’t want to fight us because we’re like Godzilla.”
So cottonmouths and other snakes don’t actually like or dislike humans. Every decision they make has to do with survival, feeding and reproduction.
Why do they bite?
Snakes bite for two reasons: to defend themselves and to catch and consume prey.
Gray said snakes are generally passive and don’t want to bite anything other than prey, as it wastes crucial venom.
“They have to do it (the poison), and they don’t want to shoot them,” Gray said.
Like most wild snakes, they will bite to defend themselves, but biting is a survival technique of last resort.
Further: The feds want information on the wildlife corridor that would link Naples with Lakeland
Further: New report: Ian’s winds topped 161 mph before landfall, costliest hurricane in state history
Further: Lessons Learned: Reporter Recalls 12-Day Canoe Trip Through Everglades National Park
Further: Everglades National Park Named Best Birding Park in the Country. Here are 5 birds that you can see there.
Is its bite dangerous?
Even non-venomous snake bites can be dangerous, simply because snakes can carry a lot of nasty bacteria and germs in their mouths.
But getting bitten by a venomous snake raises the stakes, as you’ll likely need medical attention.
“They can bite you and the bite can be quite severe because they have a lot of nasty enzymes, but they rarely cause death,” Gray said. “It will swell up, but you’re not likely to die.”
Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis on Facebook.
This article originally appeared on the Fort Myers News-Press: Cottonmouth snakes, known as aggressive, common in South Florida