When threatened, cottonmouths open up wide, displaying their gaping white mouths come potential predators.

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A western cottonmouth line coiled up and displaying the white mouth.(Image credit: Rex Lisman via Getty Images)
Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus), also called water moccasins, room venomous snakes discovered in the southeastern united States. They"re referred to as cottonmouths due to the fact that of the white coloration on the inside of your mouths, which they screen when threatened. 

Cottonmouths are semiaquatic, for this reason they"re comfortable both swimming in water (hence your other common name of water moccasin) and also basking ~ above land. They room the only venomous snake in the U.S. That spends a the majority of time in the water, Live Science previously reported. Other regional names for cottonmouths include black moccasins, gapers, mangrove rattlers, snap jaws, stub-tail snakes, swamp lions, catch jaws, water mambas and also water pilots.

Cottonmouths room pit vipers, as are copperheads and rattlesnakes, follow to Sara Viernum, a herpetologist based in Portland, Oregon. "Like all pit vipers, have heat-sensing facial pits between their eyes and nostrils," Viernum said. These devoted pits room able to detect minute differences in temperature so the the snake have the right to accurately to win the resource of heat, i beg your pardon is often potential prey. Cottonmouths seldom bite humans, and also usually only do so once provoked. 

How to determine a water moccasin

Cottonmouths are reasonably large, ranging from 2 come 4 feet lengthy (61 come 122 centimeters), according to the Savannah river Ecology Laboratory. They have actually thick, muscular bodies covered in keeled, or ridged, scales and also blocky top with large jowls. Their pupils are vertical, comparable to cat pupils, and also they have actually dark stripes next to each nostril. Your coloration different from dark brown or black to olive, banded brown or yellow. 

Cottonmouths space often puzzled with nonvenomous water snake types from the genus Nerodia. Cottonmouths and Nerodia species have similar coloring and patterns and also are all usually discovered near water. Also though water snakes space nonvenomous, they deserve to still bite and also are regularly killed by human beings out of are afraid that they are cottonmouths. 

There are a couple of ways you can tell a nonvenomous water line from a venomous water moccasin, or cottonmouth, according to the university of Florida. Water snakes space slender contrasted with cottonmouths, which room thicker and also heavier. Water snakes also have longer, diluent tails, and also their heads room a comparable width to your necks, vice versa, a cottonmouth"s head is thick, blocky and also noticeably more comprehensive than the snake"s neck. Water line pupils space round, no vertical and cat-like like the pupils of cottonmouths. Water snakes additionally lack the facial pits that space characteristic that pit vipers, such as cottonmouths.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Viperidae

Genus & species: Agkistrodon piscivorus

Source: ITIS 

When threatened, nonvenomous water snakes, together as northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) and southern water snake (Nerodia fasciata), often shot to appear bigger 보다 they space by flattening your bodies and heads. This flattening provides them look much more like cottonmouths. A water snake"s planarization head will certainly look much more triangular in shape, however not blocky and thick, like a cottonmouth"s head. A water snake"s head will also still it is in a similar width to the neck, also when flattened. The college of Florida stated that do the efforts to death a snake greatly increases the hazard of gift bitten by one.

Juvenile cottonmouths have more distinctive bands throughout their bodies and also are lighter brown contrasted with adult cottonmouths. Juveniles additionally have bright-yellow tail tips that they use as tempt to entice prey. "They undulate the tail guideline slowly ago and soon to lure prey, such together frogs, within striking distance," Viernum said. The highlight patterns existing on the juveniles fades v age.

Young cottonmouth snakes have striking trends that fade v age. (Image credit: kristianbell via Getty Images)

Where perform cottonmouths live?

Cottonmouths are aboriginal to the U.S. And variety from southeastern Virginia come Florida, west to central Texas and north to southerly Illinois and Indiana, follow to the IUCN. They generally live in aquatic and wetland habitats, including swamps, marshes, drainage ditches, ponds, lakes and streams. 

The Savannah river Ecology Laboratory listed that cottonmouths have the right to be checked out year-round throughout the day and at night, yet they mainly hunt ~ dark, particularly in the summer. They deserve to be found basking in the sun during the work on rocks, logs and stumps, follow to the Virginia department of Wildlife Resources.

There room three subspecies that cottonmouth well-known by the combined Taxonomic info System (ITIS). These space Florida cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti), found throughout Florida; western cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma), discovered in the species’ west range, including Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas; and eastern cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus), uncovered in its east range, including Georgia, south Carolina, phibìc Carolina and also southeastern Virginia.

Identifying the different subspecies is difficult. Your markings differ considerably, and also the subspecies can interbreed wherein their arrays overlap. Florida cottonmouths commonly have the most influential bands and also facial markings of the three subspecies, according to the U.S. Geology Survey. 

What carry out water moccasins eat?

A water moccasin eats a bullfrog. The snake"s diet consists of fish, tiny mammals, birds and also amphibians; reptiles such together lizards, baby alligators and also turtles; and also other snakes, including smaller water moccasins. (Image credit: Paul S. Wolf/Shutterstock.com)

Cottonmouths deserve to hunt prey in water or ~ above land. Lock eat fish, tiny mammals, birds, amphibians and also reptiles — consisting of other snakes and also even smaller water moccasins, follow to the university of Michigan"s animal Diversity web (ADW). Cottonmouths kill v a single, venomous bite, then wrap approximately their prey until it stop moving prior to swallowing your food whole. 

Cottonmouths friend in spring, typically from April to May. During the mating process, males slither around, waving your tails in an effort to tempt females away from various other male suitors. The males likewise fight each other when competing for females. Impregnated females have actually a gestation period of five months, top top average. Cottonmouths space ovoviviparous, which means that eggs incubate inside the mother"s body. Females provide birth to live young every 2 to three years, in litters of about 10 come 20 offspring. 

Baby cottonmouths room born brightly colored and also go off on their very own as soon as they"re born. Many baby cottonmouths don"t make it come adulthood since they are consumed by various other animals, such together raccoons, cats, eagles and snapping turtles. 

Experts don"t really know how long cottonmouths can live. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife department (TPWD), cottonmouths live less than 10 year in the wild. However, the snakes deserve to live much longer in captivity, and also at least one captive cottonmouth has actually lived to be over 24 year old, according to ADW. 

Cottonmouths might hibernate end winter in the colder, north parts of their range. They spend hibernation in burrows make by other animals, including crayfish and also tortoises, or under some other type of cover, such together rotting stumps, follow to the IUCN. 

Cottonmouth behavior

Cottonmouths have actually a call for gift dangerous, but in reality, they hardly ever bite humans unless they room picked up or stepped on. They might stand their ground against potential predators, including humans, by using protective behaviors. 

"When a cottonmouth feels threatened, it will coil that body and open the mouth wide to disclose the white coloration of the inside of its mouth," Viernum said. The speed of white contrasts through the snake"s dark body colors to produce a startling display. "Exposing the white that the mouth serves as a warning signal to potential predators." 

Cottonmouths may likewise make themselves stink come deter predators by spraying a foul-smelling musk native glands in the basic of their tail, follow to the Florida Museum of organic History. Cottonmouths can additionally shake their tails a bit like a rattlesnake and also can do a vibrating sound by doing so, yet they don"t have an yes, really rattle, choose rattlesnakes do. 

A cottonmouth looking up from the grass. (Image credit: Shelby together Earle/Shutterstock.com)

Cottonmouth bite

Although bites space rare, cottonmouth venom is potent and also can be deadly come humans. Anyone who suffers a cottonmouth bite need to seek medical attention immediately. The Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that because that venomous bites, the sooner antivenom have the right to be administered, the sooner irreversible damages from the venom deserve to be stopped. After ~ calling because that emergency services, the CDC recommends that snakebite victims take a photo of the line from a safe distance if possible, continue to be calm and also apply an initial aid while wait for emergency medical organization personnel come arrive. 

Humans bitten by pit vipers, such together cottonmouths, will nearly always feeling an instant burning pain whereby they"ve to be bitten, and also these bite wounds usually start to puffy within five minutes, follow to TPWD. Skin discoloration about the wound is also common.

Cottonmouth gift is mostly composed the hemotoxins that break down blood cells, avoiding the blood from coagulation or coagulating, follow to Viernum. The hemotoxins bring about "hemorrhaging throughout the circulatory device wherever the venom has actually spread," she said. Being bitten and injected with cottonmouth venom deserve to lead come "temporary and/or permanent tissue and muscle damage; lose of an extremity, relying on the ar of the bite; interior bleeding; and also extreme pain about the injection area," Viernum added.

The college of Florida stated that 7,000 to 8,000 world are bitten by awful snakes in the U.S. Each year, however only around five to six human being die from your bites. Cottonmouths have actually accounted for much less than 1% of all snakebite deaths in the U.S., according to TPWD. 

Conservation status

Local cottonmouth populations have the right to be intimidated by marsh drainage because that agriculture, development, and also being disturbed or eliminated by humans. However, cottonmouths room categorized as a species of least problem on the IUCN Red perform of endangered Species, which method that across nearly every one of its range, the types is at low danger of extinction. Cottonmouths have actually a broad distribution, and also the IUCN presumes that the cottonmouth populace is huge and relatively stable. However, the IUCN critical assessed the types in 2007, and also the company states the their assessment needs updating.

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Many cottonmouths live in defended state and national parks, and the species is also protected by state legislation in some places. In Missouri, for example, all snakes are protected from being killed, consisting of cottonmouths, follow to the Missouri room of Conservation. 

Additional resources

This short article was updated on June 14, 2021, by Live science Staff Writer Patrick Pester.