Behavior of Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
Whitfield Gibbons and Michael E. Dorcas
are often perceived as aggressive antagonists, with the
North American cottonmouth having a particularly notorious
reputation for such villainy. We designed tests to measure
the suite of behavioral responses by free-ranging cottonmouths
to encounters with humans. When confronted, 23 (51%) of
45 tested tried to escape, and 28 (78%) of 36 tested used
threat displays and other defensive tactics; only 13 of
36 cottonmouths bit an artificial hand used in the tests.
Our findings challenge conventional wisdom about aggressive
behavior in an animal perceived as more dangerous than it
is. Changing irrational negative attitudes about venomous
snakes is a necessary step toward quelling the recently
documented global decline in reptiles.