Cottonmouth snakes, also known as Agkistrodon Piscivorus, are sometimes referred to by the common names of water moccasins or black moccasins. These snakes can be incredibly dangerous if they are in or around your home.

Luckily, this venomous snake species is usually only found near bodies of water, but if you happen to come across one, it’s best to know as much about them as you can. Knowing how they live and what they look like can help you avoid them and keep an eye out for them if you live in an area where they’re prevalent.

Having as much information as you can get about these snakes can help you be prepared if one or more of them make their way onto your property.

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Cottonmouth snakes mate during the spring in April or May. The males lure females by waving their tails and slithering around either on land or in the water.

Facts About Cottonmouth Snakes

Cottonmouth snakes are named so because the insides of their mouths are a bright white color that’s very prominent when open. They also have many other characteristics that are easy to recognize and can help you know what you’re dealing with if you see one.

Aside from their characteristic white mouths, their vertical pupils and dark stripes can also identify cottonmouth snakes next to each nostril. They have thick bodies and are muscular and are covered in ridged or keeled scales. They also have a blocky, triangular head shape and large jowls. It can be difficult to identify a cottonmouth snake based solely on its coloring, and they range in color from dark brown or black to olive and yellow. Younger cottonmouths will have bold, striking patterns and bright yellow tail tips, but these tend to fade as the snakes age.

Cottonmouths are fairly large snakes that should be easy to see if one crosses your path. They can grow to be between two and four feet long, but in areas of the United States that are located further south, cottonmouths have been found that are upwards of six feet in length. This helps differentiate them between the smaller, non-venomous water snakes common in the same areas that cottonmouths are.

Cottonmouth snakes are native to North America and can be found from the midwest to the southeastern United States. They’re especially common in states like Alabama, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, where the weather is wet and warm. There are a lot of small bodies of water where they can hide and find food.

Cottonmouths are aquatic snakes and thrive in areas that have permanent, slow-moving water sources. They live in regions with many aquatic wetland areas like marshes, swamps, ponds, and streams. If you’re in an area with a lot of brackish water or drainage ditches, cottonmouths are likely living there.

Adult cottonmouths have a varied diet, including insects, fish, baby alligators, amphibians, and small mammals. They have even been known to eat other, smaller cottonmouths that share their same territory. They’ll strike their victims with a venomous bite, and if they don’t succumb right away, the cottonmouth will track them until they do. Because it’s a pit viper and has facial pits on the sides of its nose, the cottonmouth can sense body heat using infrared and hunts in the dark when most other animals can’t.

Cottonmouth snakes are known for being fairly aggressive and not backing down when threatened. They’ll gape their mouths and reveal the bright white interior that gives them their name as a threat display. One of the best ways to know distinguish a cottonmouth from a harmless water snake is to look at how it’s swimming. Cottonmouths tend to swim on the water’s surface with their bodies about halfway submerged, whereas water snakes will swim under the water. If you can see a snake on the surface, the odds are high that it’s a cottonmouth.

Cottonmouth snakes mate during the spring in April or May. The males lure females by waving their tails and slithering around either on land or in the water. This is when the males will be the most aggressive and territorial, so you must keep a sharp eye out during these months if you live in cottonmouth territory. Females have a gestation period of about five months and give birth once every two or three years. They will bear litters of 10 to 20 live young every time. Since juvenile cottonmouths go off on their own as soon as they’re born, most of them don’t live to adulthood and are eaten by other, larger predators.

The from a cottonmouth bite, even though it’s less venomous than a rattlesnake. For the most part, a cottonmouth bite won’t kill a healthy adult, but it can cause severe complications if you don’t get treatment right away. They can also deliver dry bites, which don’t deliver any venom, but it’s impossible to know if that has happened when you’re bitten. It’s best to treat any snake bite as if it was venomous and get medical attention as soon as possible.

Protect Yourself From Cottonmouth Snakes

Knowing as much as you can about cottonmouth snakes can help you protect yourself and your family if you live in an area where they are common. Knowing about their behaviors and venom can help you make the right moves if you see one or are bitten by one, and it can also help you avoid them in the first place.

If you have a small body of water on your property with a cottonmouth snake infestation, getting a professional wildlife handler to take care of it is essential. They’ll know how to safely remove the snakes and humanely move them to the wild where they belong.

This is by far the best, and safest, course of action to protect yourself, your pets, and your family.

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FAQs About Cottonmouth Snakes

Is this a cottonmouth or a water snake?

The venomous cottonmouth has a similar appearance to some non-venomous snakes. These can include the banded water snake and the northern water snake. Because of this, snake identification is incredibly important to make sure you stay safe.

There are a few distinct differences between the two. If you viewed the snakes from the top of the head, the eyes of cottonmouths cannot be seen, whereas the eyes of water snakes can be. Water snakes have round pupils, whereas cottonmouths have thin pupils.

Cottonmouths are also occasionally mistaken for copperhead snakes. To tell the difference, adult copperheads keep their color while adult cottonmouths loose the bright colors and patterns from their youth.

Cottonmouths have heat-sensing pits between their nostrils and eyes. They also rest their heads elevated and off the ground — neither of which water snakes have, or do.

What do cottonmouth snakes eat?

Cottonmouth snakes have a varied diet. Primarily, they eat fish, frogs, and other amphibians but also will eat mammals (like mice, rats, and rabbits), birds, lizards, and other snakes.

Are cottonmouth snakes venomous?

Yes, cottonmouth snakes are venomous. Most often a bite won’t kill a healthy adult, but complications can occur if you don’t get immediate medical treatment.

Editorial Contributors
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Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management.

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Katelynn Ward

Katelynn Ward is a home warranty writer at Today’s Homeowner. She attended Eastern Kentucky University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degrees and her Master’s Degrees.

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