Scientific Name: Agkistrodon piscivorous
The name “cottonmouth” is derived from the snake’s habit of opening its mouth to an intruder, revealing its inner white lining.
The cottonmouth is the United States’ only semi-aquatic viper, known to live in shallow lakes, streams, and marshes.
STATUS: The cottonmouth has been listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: The cottonmouth is usually associated with bodies of water in the American Southeast, ranging from southern Virginia to the tip of Florida in the East and from southern Missouri to some parts of Texas in the West.
DIET: Described as omnicarnivorous, the cottonmouth is known to feed on mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and snakes. When a dry season hits and small lakes and ponds dry up, cottonmouths are also known to eat worms and small fish.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The cottonmouth is the largest of the genus Agkistrodon, measuring about 31 inches in length and around 10 lbs. in weight (with males being slightly larger than females). The head of the cottonmouth is typically a uniform brown color and is broad compared to its neck, while its tail is long and slender compared to other species of snakes. Although the majority of adult cottonmouths are black, there are some color discrepancies consisting of brown, gray, tan, yellow, or black ground colors. The belly of the snake is white, tan, or even yellowish white. The crossbands of the cottonmouth are typically lighter in the center matching ground color for better camouflage.
The Rough Bite of Cotton
Unlike its smooth name, the bite of the cottonmouth is venomous and has the ability to kill if not treated quickly and properly. The venom of the cottonmouth is hemotoxic, meaning it destroys blood cells and special tissues that aid in the clotting of blood once a cut has occurred. The hemorrhaging that results from this snake’s poison can affect any portion of the body that is affected and therefore immediate medical treatment should be sought if a bite has been incurred from this species (along with any other snake species for that matter!).
Despite their venomous capabilities, recent research has shown that the cottonmouth is not a very aggressive snake. In the majority of cases in which the snake was incited, the snake wanted to retreat or show defensive tactics rather than attack the aggressor.