Water Moccasin Snake

Which name is correct, water moccasin snake or cottonmouth? Well, the

name “water moccasin snake” is more or less a generic term used by rural

folks referring to any dark colored snake near the water. The name

“Cottonmouth” is the correct name accepted by herpetology. For the sake of

the rural folks.

: One thing common among

most venomous snakes is that they

don’t enjoy the presence of people.

With that, most venomous snakes tend

to seek out places that have the least

amount of human contact as possible.

Well, this snake is no 

different, their optimal habitat consists

of marsh wet lands and other calm slow

moving streams, cypress swamps,

ponds and lakes. For the most part they stick to natural fixed bodies of water

with thick vegetation that provides an abundant source of food.


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When I was a young man living in Fort Myers, Florida I observed a group of

water moccasin snakes gathered around a small pond that was all but dried

up, preying on the tad poles and small fish trapped inside. Although, they

will venture from water on occasion, when they do, they still seem to prefer

the low land type habitat that retains a lot of moisture, opposed to the drier

open grasslands or plains. In the northern regions of their native range water

moccasin snakes do hibernate, but they have been observed all months of

the calendar year on occasional warm days outside the den site sunning on

the hillside or waters edge.

Personality: I once heard an old herpetologist by the name of Doug Jones

say, “Cottonmouths live in a harsh environment from which they developed a

rather harsh personality.” Looking at places where they are commonly found,

you can’t help but see some truth in that statement as they do tend to live

in rather harsh areas of swamp land and backwoods.


Water moccasin snakes clearly carry a different demeanor than other flighty

non-venomous water snakes that quickly flee when approached or stumbled

upon, whereas, the water moccasin snake usually stand its ground. Large

males also appear to be territorial in some instances advancing on would be

threats and even approaching occupied boats at times. Are water moccasins

really territorial or are they a little more curious than other species is the real

question? I tend to think it’s probably a little combination of both, all fueled

by self confidence.

I’ve read several articles about the species where authors report that

water moccasin’s don’t regularly climb low lying branches on the water’s edge

and bask like other non-venomous waters snakes do, but that is entirely

false. I’ve personally seen several animals more than a couple feet off the

ground basking in the sun in the same manor that common water snakes

tend to do.


I will say that they clearly swim differently than other water snakes, being

that they are very buoyant so the majority of their body does in fact tend to

stay on the surface of the water. While other water snakes swim much more

submerged and concealed with only the head above the water’s surface.


Diet: Water moccasin snakes utilize a few different hunting methods being 

opportunistic and ambush hunters as well as scavengers if need be. Their

prey items range from small turtles, frogs, birds, mammals, fish, raccoons,

opossums and even snakes to include other water moccasins! This is one of

the reasons why I’ve always liked these snakes so much, they’re a wicked

nasty pit viper that carries a dominant attitude which says, “If I can catch it

and kill it, then it’s a worthy food source.” That’s one of the reasons they’ve

been coined the “Bad boys of the South” among reptile keepers and