MOORE COLUMN: Austin Stevens talks rattlesnake myths, cottonmouths

Published 11:31 pm Saturday, October 24, 2015

Austin Stevens is considered by many to be the world’s foremost expert on dangerous snakes.
With thousands of hours of contact both in the wild and captivity over the years the host of Austin Stevens Snakemaster and now Austin Stevens Adventures has a new book out called “Austin Stevens: Snakemaster-Wildlife Adventures” with the World’s Most Dangerous Reptiles.
In it, he shares detailed information about his amazing encounters with snakes around the globe.
I had the opportunity to conduct a line of questions with him last week and took the opportunity to address the photos of giant rattlesnakes propagated via social media.
“The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in North America, and is known to average around 5.5 feet in length. The largest specimens found have been closer to 8 feet, weighing in at around 10 pounds. A formidable snake, to say the least. Snakes grow all their lives, though the process slows as they get older,” Stevens said.
“An eastern diamondback rattlesnake may live to be 20 years old. No one knows for sure in the wild. Its rate of growth would most commonly depend on the availability of food, though some specimens just simply do grow faster and bigger than others [As noted in captive specimens].
“I am often asked to comment about dead snakes in photographs being held up to the camera with exaggerated claims to their size. In these instances, it is immediately obvious that the snake is extended close to the lens, making it look bigger, while the person holding out the specimen, usually on a pole, looks that much smaller in the back ground,” Stevens explained.
“Claims of 15 foot rattlers being spotted have never been substantiated, and are ludicrous. Having said this, it is not unrealistic to imagine that in some uninhabited wilderness area where humans have as yet not made their presence over abundant, there might still be unrecorded eastern diamondbacks in excess of 8.5 feet in length.”
I also asked him about our most often encountered local venomous snake the cottonmouth (water moccasin).
Are they as bad as their reputation?
“The cottonmouth, or water moccasin, as it is also known is indeed reputed to be a bad-tempered snake when approached. Generally speaking I have found this to be true, though one must also take into account that though a species may have earned a particular reputation, individual snakes may differ within a species,” Stevens said.
“In Florida, in one morning, I came across two specimens within 50 feet of each other. The first immediately deployed the typical defense strategy, with head pulled back into its body coils, mouth wide open with tongue flickering in and out while its tail vibrated noisily amongst leaf litter, producing a sound almost like a rattler. Moving closer with my camera, the snake immediately responded with numerous short, quick strikes in my direction.”
Stevens said not 20 minutes later and just a little further along, he came across a smaller specimen of the same species, basking on a log.
“This cottonmouth showed little interest in my approach and only moved when I attempted to pick it up with my snake tongs, which I eventually did with little complaint on the part of the snake. Two completely different displays of attitude, but generally speaking, cottonmouths are quick to show their displeasure when approached.”
Stevens said although venomous snakes can be dangerous, they have a very important role in our environment.
“Though snakes of different species feed on a variety of prey, most take rodents, those elusive, very numerous, and destructive little creatures that plague farms and destroy crops.”
“Each individual snake is responsible for the death of hundreds of rodents each year and is nature’s best defense against their reaching plague proportions. If concerned about the presence of snakes in an area, it would be better to take precautions rather than kill snakes indiscriminately. Unless cornered and/or forced to defend themselves, snakes will certainly avoid confrontation with humans.”
You can follow Austin Stevens on his official Facebook page, Austin Stevens-Adventurer.

To contact Chester Moore, email him at You can hear him on “Moore Outdoors” Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at

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