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What is a Cantil?

K. K. Lowen
K. K. Lowen

A cantil is a type of snake found in Central America and Mexico. Also known as agkistrodon bilineatus, dangerous venom is one distinctive characteristic of both the species and its subspecies. Other names for the snake include Mexican moccasin and common cantil. It is part of the pit viper family.

The venom of the cantil is dangerous to humans as well as its prey. It may cause a variety of symptoms that could result in amputation or death, especially if the wound does not receive proper treatment. A mild reaction to the snake’s bite, often the result of a strike from a younger snake, may result in swelling and pain. Adult snakebites are usually more dangerous, causing heavy swelling and the death of skin cells. Any exposure to cantil venom should be treated by a professional immediately.

An untreated cantil bite may necessitate amputation of the affected limb.
An untreated cantil bite may necessitate amputation of the affected limb.

These snakes are usually black, brown, or deep red in color and have bands or stripes that may be darker shades of these colors. At times, they may feature accents or highlights in a shade of white. The snake’s head is generally wide and triangular in shape, with diminutive eyes. Some subspecies of cantil also display vertical lines running down the sides of the head.

Both the cantil and the moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.
Both the cantil and the moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.

The cantil is a type of pit viper, which is a subfamily of the viper family. A distinguishing feature of pit vipers is the existence of two cavities, or pits, between the nose and eye on each side of the head. The pits are access points to unique organs which detect heat in order to aid in the hunting of prey. Similar to other types of vipers, the species' eggs develop within the body until they are ready to hatch. Breeding typically occurs during the spring season, and a female may produce up to twenty young may at once.

There are three subspecies of cantils. The agkistrodon bilineatus bilineatus is the subspecies that received its name from the title of the entire species because it is the most common type of cantil. It is most frequently seen in Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Agkistrodon bilineatus russeolus is most commonly found on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. The third subspecies, the agkistrodon bilineatus howardgloydi, generally lives in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Experts once considered the agkistrodon bilineatus taylori to be a subspecies of the cantil, but based on DNA evidence they have promoted the snake to its own species. The snake is exclusive to areas of Mexico and may be more popular than cantils with exotic pet collectors. Young ornate cantils have distinctly colored rings or bands encircling their bodies and vivid yellow or green tail tips. The colors fade or darken as the snake progresses in age.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Cantil?

A Cantil is a venomous pit viper species, scientifically known as Agkistrodon bilineatus. It's native to Mexico and Central America, where it inhabits tropical areas near water sources. This snake is recognized by its distinctive color patterns and the heat-sensing pits located between its eyes and nostrils, which aid in detecting warm-blooded prey.

How venomous is the Cantil?

The Cantil's venom is highly potent, containing hemotoxic components that can cause tissue damage and disrupt blood clotting. While bites are serious and require immediate medical attention, fatalities are rare due to the snake's reclusive nature and the availability of antivenom in regions where Cantils are found.

What does the Cantil eat?

Cantils are carnivorous and primarily feed on small mammals, amphibians, and sometimes other reptiles. They are ambush predators, using their camouflage to lie in wait for unsuspecting prey before striking with precision. Their venom quickly immobilizes the prey, which is then swallowed whole.

Where can you find Cantils in the wild?

Cantils are found in the neotropical regions of Mexico and Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica. They prefer wet, lowland areas such as swamps, marshes, and the banks of rivers and streams. Their habitat range is quite specific, making them less commonly encountered than some other snake species.

Are Cantils endangered?

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, Cantils are not listed as endangered. However, like many species, they face threats from habitat destruction and environmental changes. Conservation efforts are important to monitor their population status and ensure that their natural habitats are preserved.

How do Cantils reproduce?

Cantils are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. Females typically give birth to a litter of 5 to 15 offspring after a gestation period of several months. The young snakes are independent from birth and receive no parental care, being equipped with venom and hunting instincts to survive.

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    • An untreated cantil bite may necessitate amputation of the affected limb.
      By: Barabas Attila
      An untreated cantil bite may necessitate amputation of the affected limb.
    • Both the cantil and the moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.
      Both the cantil and the moccasin are of the Agkistrodon genus.