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Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) Snake Facts and Information

Cottonmouth snakes are aggressive, poisonous, and they look like they're munching on a ball of cotton all the time.

This article is aimed at providing interesting information about these amazing carnivorous vertebrates of the wild. You will also learn:

  • More about water moccasins
  • About the habitat of cottonmouth snakes
  • Cottonmouth characteristics, diet, and feeding behavior
  • Their movements and venomous bites
cottonmouth snake facts

Apart from this, most of us know so little about these semi-aquatic reptiles. Keep reading to learn more!

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What are Cottonmouth Snakes?

​The cottonmouth snake is the only venomous water snake that can be found in the North American region.

The scientific name of the reptile is Agkistrodon piscivorus which means hooked-tooth fish eater. This snake goes by a lot of names depending on which region it's in.

Nicknames include:

  • Water moccasin
  • Black water viper
  • Black snake
  • Water pit viper
  • Water copperhead

As a semi-aquatic vertebrate, the cottonmouth snake does well in hunting both on land and in water. The inside of the snake's mouth looks like cotton when opened, hence the name cottonmouth.

Read More: Learn about the top 10 most dangerous snakes.

The video below tells you more about cottonmouths particularly the Florida Water Moccasin.

What are Cottonmouth Snake Habitats?

As mentioned earlier, the cottonmouth is a semi-aquatic snake.

This means that the reptile can be found hunting in different forms of inland water bodies such as swamps, lakes, streams, ponds, marshes, and ditches.

These snakes also slither on land especially those that are near water sources.

Like any other types of water snake, the cottonmouth loves basking under the sun in open fields or on top of rocks. This activity helps them keep their body temperatures up.

Some water moccasins are also found on rice fields and canals. 

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How to Identify a Cottonmouth Snake

​Considering the fact that the cottonmouth is highly venomous, it is important that you know how to identify the snake.

In fact, fatalities from its bites are mostly because of the cottonmouth being confused with harmless water snakes

cottonmouth vs watersnake

​Size

​Cottonmouths are large snakes. The adult water moccasin can grow to a length of 90 to 180 cm and can weigh to more than 500 grams. Compared to female cottonmouths, the males are significantly larger and heavier. 

​Color

The dominant color of a cottonmouth snake can be:

  • Black
  • Dark brown
  • Banded brown
  • Yellow

Like any other types of snake, the belly is usually lighter or paler than its back. Younger cottonmouths however are easier to identify with striking bands of lighter shade that will eventually fade into their adulthood.

The following video will tell you more about the difference between a cottonmouth and a common water snake.

​Other Important Features

​The head of the cottonmouth is triangular in shape and matched with a thin neck and solid muscular body.

Its eyes resemble those of a cat's and has dark stripes on each nostril. 

What is the Diet and Feeding Behavior of a Cottonmouth Snake?

​The water moccasin is an excellent hunter thanks to its pits that is strategically positioned on both sides of the snake's face between its eyes and nostrils. 

These pits serve as the snake's natural heat seeking device that it uses to hunt its prey in the dark. Because of this, cottonmouths hunt efficiently even in the dead of night.

cottonmouth feasting on a fish

Because of their semi-aquatic nature, cottonmouths eat a variety of fish, small mammals, amphibians, lizards, turtles, and other types of water snakes. Water moccasins are also known to hunt and feed on young alligators. 

The main tactic used by the snake to hunt its prey is by initiating an ambush. The cottonmouth strikes swiftly and holds the prey for a few seconds, just enough to administer an ample dose of venom into the victim's body.

The snake lets its victim lose, tracks its scent, and consumes the prey once it's dead. 

How do Cottonmouths Move Around?

Basically, these snakes don't hibernate, especially if they live in tropical countries.

However, water moccasins in temperate zones sleep through the entire winter in dens alongside other venomous snakes. When on land, the snakes bathe under the sun and on warmer ground during sunset and on colder days.

Do Water Moccasins Jump?

No.

Cottonmouths or water moccasins are not known to jump at all.

Do They Swim?

​Most of the time, the cottonmouth can be seen hunting and swimming in the water. Compared to other types of water snakes, the water moccasin swims with majority of its body floating above water. 

Do They Climb?

Water moccasins are capable of climbing trees, but typically do not. These snakes are not really into the habit of poking into someone else's tree.

They spend most of their time swimming.  In other times, these snakes enjoy a siesta under the shade of the tree in warm days and out in the open field on piles of rocks to raise their body temperatures during colder months.

Other Behavior

Although it was mentioned earlier that cottonmouths are aggressive snakes, the water moccasin is a rather conservative type compared to the black mamba and the small carpet viper.

In fact, studies show that more than 70% of these snakes resort to threat displays rather than go for a head on engagement when it comes to having encounters with humans. Threat display of a cottonmouth includes a vibrating tail similar to that of a rattle snake and an open mouth with its head drawn back.

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cottonmouth snake opening jaws

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Will Cottonmouth Snakes Bite You?

​It is very rare for water moccasins to bite humans. However, this doesn't mean that they will not bite you.

Depending on your proximity in relation to the snake's position, your encounter with the cottonmouth will most definitely be translated as a threat. And in order to get rid of this potential danger, the snake will initiate a threat display.

If left alone, the snake will just most likely slither away. But when this defensive approach fails and further aggression is shown, the snake will be forced to strike for its defense.

Are Cottonmouths Venomous?

​YES!

The cottonmouth venom is more than potent enough to be considered deadly. Its venom is mainly composed of hemotoxins, which simultaneously break down blood cells while preventing it from clotting at the same time. 

The venom of the water moccasin is more lethal than that of the copperhead's but not as deadly as the rattlesnake's.

Side Effects of a Cottonmouth Bite

​The venom of the cottonmouth is very toxic that it can easily lead to internal bleeding.

If not treated immediately, the venom can cause death although fatalities from a cottonmouth bite is very rare according to medical records.

Other effects of the snake's venom include temporary to permanent tissue damage and loss of limbs.

​How do Cottonmouth Snakes Reproduce?

​Adult cottonmouth snakes mate in the warm months of the year.

After mating the female snake becomes pregnant and undergoes a gestation period of three months. As an ovoviviparous species, the water moccasin bears the eggs inside its body until they hatch.

The female snake then gives birth to around 16 to 20 live young snakes.

Where do Cottonmouth Snakes Live?

In the United States

Water moccasins are commonly found in the south central and southeastern regions of the United States. Their US habitat ranges from southeast Virginia, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and southern Georgia. These snakes also take refuge in the states of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana.

In Ohio?

In Ohio however, there have been no records of recent sightings of cottonmouths. But still, the state is home to three popular venomous snakes and these are the Timber Rattlesnake, the Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake, and the Northern Copperhead.

In New Jersey?

Nope! There are no cottonmouths in New Jersey. However, the state is home to two venomous serpents - the Northern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake. The state also hosts a number of non-venomous snakes such as the Black Rat Snake, the Northern Brown Snake, the Northern Red Belly Snake, and many others.

In Tennessee?

Yes! In fact, the state is home to three more venomous snakes. These are the Copperhead, Timber Rattlesnake, and the Western Pigmy Rattlesnake.

In Kentucky?

As mentioned above, Kentucky is one of those states that have cottonmouths in them. The water moccasin shares the state with the Eastern Black Kingsnake, the the Pigmy Rattlesnake, the Copperhead, the Diamond-Backed Watersnake, and many others.

In Kansas?

The water moccasin does exist in Kansas although in very small population. In fact, records indicate that eyewitness accounts of the presence of cottonmouths are mostly the case of mistaken identity.

In Michigan?

No. The state is home to a number of non-venomous snakes and one highly venomous one - the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

International

The cottonmouth snake is a native in the south central and southeastern regions of the United States.

If you're having cottonmouth encounters inside your property, it's best that you use our Trusted Exterminator Search Tool to get professional help.

Read More​: Click here to learn more about getting rid of snakes.​​​

Want To Just Skip All This Research And Hire A Decent Exterminator For Your Snake Problem?

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Final Interesting Facts About the Cottonmouth

The water moccasin is a very buoyant reptile which is the main reason why most of its body floats when moving on water. This however, doesn't prevent the snake from striking a fatal bite under water.

cottonmouth feeding on anole

Cottonmouths also practice cannibalism as part of their feeding behavior. These snakes have been seen to feed on young cottonmouths.

Water moccasins are also known to eat carrion or decaying meat from a dead animal.

Ultimately, the most important thing you need to know about cottonmouths is that they're unlikely to bite a human. However, if you are bitten, this snake's venom can cause serious damage. It's vital that you seek immediate medical attention.​​

For more info about other kinds of snakes, simply visit our Snake Guide page.

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