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September 7, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, September 7, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

People living near Lake Lanier in Martinsville should be aware that an aggressive water moccasin may be on the prowl in their neighborhood.

Local resident Travis Keith was driving along Root Trail on Saturday when he saw what he thought was a large stick in the road, but then he realized it was a snake. It moved into the grass, and he ran over it a couple of times with his truck before it slithered into a rocky, brushy area near the lake, he said.

Keith said he first thought the snake was a copperhead, but "a copperhead would have scurried away" from the truck.

He believes it was a water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth. Water moccasins are poisonous.

This snake, which Keith described as being about 3 1/2 feet long, dark-colored with stripes, struck four times at the truck's tires, he said.

The water moccasin's head "was twice as big as (the diameter of) its body," he said, noting the size of its head was comparable to the size of the hand of a 6- or 7-year-old boy.

And, it gave off a pungent odor after the truck ran over it, he said.

According to information obtained from the Internet, a moccasin can emit a pungent secretion from anal glands at the base of its tail if it is agitated.

Keith said he is sure what he encountered Saturday was a water moccasin. He said he is familiar with moccasins because was he stationed in the military in South Carolina, where they are common, and he is an outdoors enthusiast.

He said he has seen a few moccasins in Henry County "but I never thought I would see one in the city."

In a Martinsville Bulletin article June 1, Richard Hoffman, director of research and collections at the Virginia Museum of Natural History and a snake expert, said there are no cottonmouths in the area to his knowledge.

The article also quoted Mark Duncan of Ridgeway, who said he was bitten by a cottonmouth near his home in April.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Web site says the eastern cottonmouth, a large venomous semi-aquatic snake, never has been found north or west of Colonial Heights.

However, the site states, "The nonvenomous northern water snake is often mistaken for the cottonmouth, but it has crossbands that are not wider at the ends, no vertical pupil, no pit on the face. The northern water snake can be identified by observing that the crossbands near the head of the snake do not widen at the ends. Also, when swimming, most of its body is below the water and only the head shows when motionless, unlike the cottonmouth, which swims with the entire body on the surface of the water."


It is found throughout the state, according to the Web site.

No matter what kind of snake it was, Keith said he wants people, especially near Lake Lanier, to know that aggressive snakes exist locally so they can protect their children from them.


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