Cottonmouth Snake

Identification: Cottonmouth snakes are a venomous snake species native to

south eastern United States. They’re a semi large bodied pit viper in the

Agkistrodon family. A fairly large snake overall with reports of some

specimens reaching near 6’ in length, but the majority of adults are in the 3

1/2 to 4’ range.

As adults they have a much darker banded type pattern then the brighter

autumn colors of the neonates and

juveniles. They are the only native 

venomous snake species that are semi

aquatic, spending the majority of

their lives either in or around water.

With that, they have keeled scales 

which are indicative to all water snakes

and a feature that separates them

from their cousin the copperhead. 


Other keynote features of these snakes are their very broad and triangular shaped heads along with their elliptical pupils which differ from non-venomous water snakes that have an oval pupil. Although, there are several species of non venomous snakes i.e. hognose, water snakes etc that imitate the cottonmouth snake both in physical appearance and behavior but correctly identifying one in the wild isn’t too difficult with a little foresight into what to look for:


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  • triangular head
  • elliptical pupils
  • large pit (Loreal pit) between the eye and nostrils
  • striping along broad side of head

Natural Range: The natural range is mainly limited to the

south eastern Unites States with populations from the deep south of Florida

to up along the east coast of North and South Carolina to as far west as

Western Kentucky and Southern Missouri.

(Posted above is an excellent example of a non-venomous hognose snake on the right imitating a cottonmouth which is on the left)

Sub species: There are three sub species of cottonmouth snakes which are

specific to different regions of their natural range. They are as follows:

 

  1. Western Cottonmouth which gets its name from the region it occupies from north central Texas all the way up to Western Kentucky and Southern Missouri for the western region. The Western having the largest range of all three sub species also covers areas as far east as
    Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. It’s also worth mentioning that westerns are the smallest of the sub species.
  2. Eastern Cottonmouth covers the smallest region of all three sub species mainly Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina but there is some overlap with the western sub species in Georgia as we as the Florida sub species in northern Florida.
  3. Florida Cottonmouth is the largest of the sub species having heard of a few reports of animals in the area of six feet or better in length. I’ve even heard there’s a video floating around of an extremely large cottonmouth eating a domestic cat that was run over on the side of the road. As far as range goes they pretty much cover Florida and the Southern tips of South Carolina and Georgia.

Origin of name:The name “Cottonmouth” comes from the animal’s defensive

behavior that it displays when it feels threatened. It coils up in a circle and

opens its mouth nice and wide displaying an impressive set of retractable

fangs as well as the classic cotton white mouth. Also, being that their native

range is primary in the southern cotton growing region of the United States

so the name cottonmouth was more fitting. They’re also reffed to as water

moccasins in some rural areas.

Mating and offspring: Cottonmouths start their courting and mating

activities in early spring. The males will battle it out with the winner going

on to mate with the females. These battles typically end with the larger

dominant males pulverizing the younger males leaving them sulking in a pool

of misery and self pity.

 

After successfully mating and the female becomes gravid

(pregnancy in snakes) she’ll seek out warmth basking in the sun for the

remainder of the gestation period which is usually in the area of 80 to 90

days. After which, the mother will give birth to a live litter of 10-15 little

neonates.

 

Like pretty much all reptiles at birth the neonates are fully equipped with the

tools necessary to begin the journey of life. These neonates have nice bright

colors consisting of yellows, oranges, along with a brightly colored almost

Note the brightly colored tail

florescent yellow tail. These colors are

perfect camouflage necessary to blend

in around the edges of the swamp and

forest floor. They use their brightly

colored tails as bait to lure in

unsuspecting insects, frogs, snakes,

small mammals etc.

 

Just to dis-spell a common myth these

babies are just as venomous as adults and must be treated

with equal respect.