Poisonous snakes a hidden danger in a flood - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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Poisonous snakes a hidden danger in a flood

Torrential rains have lead to major flooding in many parts of the country and a serious -- and often forgotten -- flood danger is poisonous snakes.

One of the most deadly is the cottonmouth water moccasin. It's North America's only poisonous aquatic snake, and it lives in swamps, rivers and lakes mainly in the Southeastern part of the country — an area that is also flood-prone. 

This venomous viper will even chase you if agitated!

Jules Sylvester is one of the country's leading reptile experts and Hollywood's top snake wrangler. Jules has handled thousands of venomous snakes over the years, including hundreds of cottonmouth water moccasins.

"Down in the South, of course, we deal with flooding all the time. Every year we get flooding. And the snakes don't stay where they are, obviously. They come up with the rising water," says Jules. "The floodwaters come up and into your house. So once the water's gone down, you've got a cottonmouth in your oven. You've got a cottonmouth in your laundry. You've got a cottonmouth on the second story, under your bed, in your bed, in the toilet."

Cottonmouths can grow to be four feet or longer and are heavy-bodied snakes. Their coloration varies. Some are marked with cross-bands on a brown and yellow background, while others are completely black or brown.

"The word "cottonmouth" is a terrific name for this snake, because when it gets threatened it gapes its mouth open just for a flash and inside it's fluffy white, just like a piece of cotton," Jules explains.

A water moccasin is a pit viper like a rattlesnake. They have the heat receptors under the nose and they can feel where you are on the darkest night -- up to five feet away -- and they can strike and hit you in pitch black.

Jules says if you discover a cottonmouth in your house, don't go anywhere near it.

"The cottonmouth has a very fast bite. It's almost like a boxer's jab," says Jules. "As it opens its mouth, the fangs unfold. They're actually folded like a flick-knife on the top jaw. So the fangs unfold as the mouth opens wide. They will bed themselves in your skin, and in a fraction of a second inject the venom and recoil."

Unfortunately, people often do put themselves within striking distance because they mistake the cottonmouth for its benign look-alike.

"It does look identical to the laymen's eye to a water snake, which is non-venomous," says Jules. "The water snake has got big, buggy eyes and they're slightly more on the surface, almost like an alligator. The head is pretty much level with the water. The cottonmouth seems to swim with its head out of the water, looking. His eyes aren't quite as buggy."

Jules says after a flood, you also need to search for cottonmouth water moccasins around your yard, which is especially important if you have children or pets.

So what should you do if you find one in or around your home?

"Don't try to be Rambo and try to catch it," warns Jules. "That's where people get bitten. There's more people bitten by snakes screwing around with the snakes. Don't try to catch it. Don't try to kill it. Keep an eye on it and call a professional."

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