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f99u4le3 - COASTAL REPTILES Lesson 3 Coastal Reptiles...

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© P ROJECT O CEANOGRAPHY C OASTAL R EPTILES 150 C OASTAL R EPTILES Lesson 3. Coastal Reptiles - Mangrove Snake Lesson Objectives: This section focuses on the Mangrove Water Snake. The student will become familiar with its physiology, habitat, and its role in the Mangrove Swamp. There's no doubt about it: Snakes are fascinating! They may not inspire much affection, but they certainly generate interest. The crowds that visit reptile houses at zoos throughout the world testify to the extraordinary appeal of these remarkable reptiles. It's difficult to put your finger exactly on what makes snakes so interesting. Undoubtedly it differs for different people. Some are excited by the fact that some species of snakes are deadly. But for most people, it's probably just that snakes are so incredibly different from the more familiar vertebrates like cows and chickens. How can an animal be so ridiculously long and thin? How can it move without legs? How can it swallow a prey item larger than its head? Why does it have lidless eyes and a forked tongue? The secretive nature of snakes in the wild makes them seem rare. Of the relatively few snake encounters most people have throughout a lifetime, many (if not all) sightings will be of nonpoisonous snakes. Still, the best advice upon encountering any snake in the wild is to keep a respectful distance and do not attempt to handle or molest the snake. When compared with some of the snake species found in other countries, none of Florida's snakes are considered aggressive. Several can be quite dangerous however. Of the six poisonous snakes found in Florida, only the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon
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© P ROJECT O CEANOGRAPHY C OASTAL R EPTILES 151 C OASTAL R EPTILES piscivorous) is known to inhabit brackish water environments. These very dangerous snakes closely resemble several of the nonpoisonous water snakes (genus Nerodia) and are difficult to differentiate in the field. Behavior offers some of the best clues. Cottonmouths often stand their ground or crawl away slowly. Water snakes usually flee quickly or drop with a splash in the water. Cottonmouths vibrate their tails when excited; water snakes do not. A thoroughly aroused cottonmouth throws its head upward and backward and holds its mouth wide open, revealing a whitish interior - origin of the name cottonmouth.
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