Cottonmouth Snake Information & Facts
Appearance: Cottonmouth snakes, otherwise known as water moccasins,
are a medium sized snake, often growing to be four feet in length, and I've
even seen up to five feet. They
are generally a dark shade of brown or a dull black and will
occasionally have lighter banding visible on their sides. The younger snakes
have lighter color and more distinct patterns. Click here for
several more photographs,
including juvenile cottonmouths.
The body of this snake is considered to be bulky with a distinct neck going into a
relatively large, triangular head. The tail also tapers off quickly at the end of
the body, from fat to thin. Like most pit vipers, the cottonmouth has pupils
which are shaped like slits. This snake is considered very venomous,
producing a toxin which prohibits the ability of the blood to clot while
destroying tissue on a cellular level. Any area that comes in contact
with water moccasin venom will begin to hemorrhage, giving the name "cytotoxic" (similar to ‘hemotoxic’ )
to this type of poison.
habitat and behavior: Cottonmouths
are semi-aquatic snakes, meaning they spend the majority of their lives
in the water. They are found predominately in the southern part of the
United States, including all of Florida and up the coast, and in the mid south, up the
Mississippi River system. living in and near small and large bodies of water. Water
moccasins are often mistaken for non-venomous brown water snakes, one of
the reasons they are particularly lethal. |
Like all pit vipers, the cottonmouth snake has two
heat sensing pits located between the eyes and the nostrils. These pits
allow the snake to pinpoint live prey and to strike without the need of
a visual. This hunting adaptation is particularly useful after dark when
most animals’ bodies are warmer than the air around them. Hunting, and
most of the snake’s activities, takes place during the night. Because of
this, and because the water moccasin spends much of its time in the
water, the snake spends a considerable amount of time basking in the
sun. The cool water saps the snake’s body temperature much faster than
land bound serpents. Basking is an efficient way to regulate body
Female snakes will give birth to litters of up to
ten live snakes after the spring mating season. The babies are born from
eggs which are hatched inside of the female snake and are not developed
in a uterus like mammalian animals. Like almost all other reptiles, baby
snakes are on their own as soon as they are born.
diet: The cottonmouth eats a large variety of wildlife. Frogs,
salamanders, fish, other snakes, birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks,
and a host of other small creatures are all fair game to the snake. When
a prey animal is detected, the cottonmouth will strike, holding its
victim for a moment to allow the full injection of venom to take place.
Once that happens, the snake immediately releases its prey to limit the
amount of retaliation, especially from strong mammals. If the prey
escapes and runs away, the snake will track it by smell and consume it
once it is dead.
Like the copperhead snake, young cottonmouths will
use their tails to lure amphibians to them. Once the unsuspecting frog
or salamander is close enough, the baby cottonmouth snake will strike. This method
of attracting prey is called ‘caudal luring’.
The cottonmouth snake gets its name from the
defense position the snake takes when it feels threatened. When
antagonized, the cottonmouth will coil up and display its fangs,
revealing the pale white skin inside of the mouth.
Cottonmouths are very buoyant, with most of their
bodies visible when they swim. Other, non-venomous water snakes will
swim with their bodies completely submerged except for the head.
These snakes can and will attack underwater.
During the winter, cottonmouths will hibernate,
sometimes sharing dens with other venomous snakes. In consistently warm
climates, the cottonmouth has been known to not hibernate at all.
Commonly thought of as an aggressive snake, the
cottonmouth’s reputation has been greatly exaggerated. If given the
chance, the snake will flee before it will pose to strike.
The origins of the title ‘water moccasin’ are
unknown, though it is speculated that name comes from the leather-like
coloration of the snakes or the silent movement akin to that of moccasin
wearing Native Americans.
When do Cottonmouths give birth? Many people don't know: does the cottonmouth snake lay eggs or give birth to live young? The
answer is that they give birth to live young! Usually about ten, but up to twenty, little baby cottonmouth snakes, each about ten inches long. That's how big baby cottonmouth
snakes are at birth. Since they don't hatch from eggs, the mother snake is present when they are born, but they then abandon the young, despite some claims that they stick
around to protect their offspring. When do they have the young? Usually in August or September. The young are also dangerous, so keep an eye out in late summer!
Why is a water moccasin called cotton mouth -
The water moccosin snake, one of the deadly vipers of North America, has a secondary name, one that was given to it for identification purposes.
Early settlers were warned of the water moccosin by Native Americans, the culture that is credited for giving the snake its original name. when
travelers started fording rivers and deep streams, the danger of the water
moccasin became very real. To spread the word in a more reliable manner,
the name cotton mouth was given to the snake. This is because, when harassed, the snake will curl up and bare its fangs, exposing its pale, white
mouth. The name cotton mouth was far easier to identify with danger than the poorly descriptive ‘water
moccasin’. If you want to read more, check out Photographs of Water Moccasin. Both terms are still
used today to refer to the water-loving serpent. Cotton mouths are often mistaken for common brown water snakes which are nonvenomous. There is no
reason to handle a cotton mouth. If you see one sunning itself on the bank, leave it alone. More people are bitten by venomous snakes in an effort
to kill them than are bitten from stumbling on the animal by accident. Vipers have the ability to strike with alarming speed and over substantial distance.
Many people want to know how to kill a Cottonmouth snake, but you don't need to. The best way to get rid of Cottonmouths is to simply leave them alone. You can also use a Cottonmouth trap
to catch them - that's one of the best ways for how to remove Cottonmouth snakes. For more information, go to my Snake Removal - How to Get Rid of Snakes home page.