Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pit Viper?

I have heard it said often that there are no venomous snakes on Ocracoke. Our family has always been skeptical. Almost a century ago my Uncle Enoch was bitten on the foot as he was running barefoot through the edge of the marsh. He was taken off the island, and had infected tissue and bone removed.

A few days ago, as I was walking along the path at Hammock Hill Nature Trail I spotted a dark snake lying on the boardwalk. I didn't have my camera with me, so I pulled out my brand new smart phone. I intended to take a still photo, but because I hadn't yet mastered the settings, I took the video below by mistake. The video is a bit jumpy because I kept moving the camera and pressing the button in my vain attempt to snap a photo.

By the time I figured out my mistake the snake had slithered away. I never got a clear look at its head, but I have the distinct impression that it was triangular.
Below is a Wikipedia photo of a cottonmouth. Note the light colored areas on the lower part of its body, and compare with the video (you might be able to get a decent still shot by pausing the video at 10 seconds).
(Photo by Fjguyote)
You be the judge.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an account of the recent skirmishes islanders have had with North Carolina legislatures over the issue of ferry tolls...and a 1955 newspaper editorial advocating free, state-operated ferries across Hatteras Inlet. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news082113.htm.


  1. Anonymous8:41 AM

    A snake bite, like any puncture wound, can become infected...whether venomous or not. As for your photo, I could not see clearly enough to make a determination as to type of snake. But if bears can swim to Ocracoke, why not snakes, especially cottonmouths, which are water snakes?! Or it could have hitched a ride in a visitor's boat or a ferry and "jumped ship" without detection. Phillip, carry your camera and use the zoom feature next time!!

  2. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Yo ho ho. Thank you for the photo(in motion)/accidental video. Your calmness under pressure is laudable. I would have been cursing like a sailor but that would have frightened the snake away. Scrolling up and down to compare the two images the tail portion and the apparent exact body presentation it looks like a ringer for a cotton mouth. Would not the NPS rangers on the island have a clue seen or have reports of these snakes on the island? I exciting for the discovery, you are a regular Charles Darwin!

  3. Anonymous11:16 AM

    I could be remembering wrong, but I'm pretty sure we were once told that cottonmouths live in Buxton woods. If they can make it and live there, why not Ocracoke too?

    1. Water Moccasins have been described as saltwater intolerant. They prefer fresh water. As a neighbor pointed out, Hatteras Island has many fresh water marshes. Ocracoke has few, although some exist near the Nature Trail.

  4. Did someone just say "dead ringer" . . . ?

  5. Anonymous4:45 PM

    when you think about it WHY SHOULD THERE NOT BE VENOMOUS SNAKE THERE. You clearly have a snake there, I've seen snakes there why would a non venomous snake have the ability to get on the island and a venomous one not have that same ability.......watch where you step and look up in the trees as well. I've seen and heard snakes falling from over head branches into the water (mostly) BUT still keep those eyes open.

  6. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Philip,if nothing else you have made everyone aware that the possibility of this danger is real....thank you

  7. Irene4:44 PM

    This July we were walking along Springers Point trail. In front of us were 2 women stopped dead in their tracks near the small wooden bridge because of a large snake. I got a couple not so great pictures but my husband got a good look at the head. We are almost positive it was a Water Moccasin. The only thing we did not smell the cucumber smell they usually have. It went under the bridge and stayed there.

    1. I have seen a Carolina Water Snake in that very location. Here is the link to my blog post about that encounter: http://villagecraftsmen.blogspot.com/2007/05/nerodia-sipedon.html

      Maybe this is the snake you saw.

  8. Anonymous10:15 PM

    A snake is a snake is a "snake" - jump back & look up!