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Cottonmouth Snake

The Cottonmouth Snake is Also Known as a Water Moccasin

The Cottonmouth Snake is in the same family as Copperheads and Rattlesnakes and is highly venomous. They can grow to be up to six feet long though the average is three to four feet. They are dark colored with a black or olive back and lighter stomach. The young snakes can have bands but these disappear with age.

As a member of the pit viper family, the Cottonmouth Snake has pits between its eyes and nostrils. These pits sense heat, helping the snake to know the position of either prey or predators. When threatened, the Cottonmouth Snake stands its ground by coiling and threatening the predator with its mouth wide open and fangs exposed. When in this position, you are able to see the inside of the snake’s mouth, which is a very bright white--hence the name, Cottonmouth. The snake is usually not aggressive toward humans but the species can vary in temperament.

Cottonmouths can be found mostly in the southern part of the United States, from Virginia to Florida and eastward to Texas. There are three subspecies: Eastern, Western, and Florida Cottonmouths. The Cottonmouth Snake is a very strong swimmer and its habitat is near the water, such as in swamps, marshes, streams, drainage ditches and wet lowlands. They can also be found near lakes and ponds. Sometimes you can see them basking in the sun on rocks by the water. They are the only one of the North American water snakes that is poisonous.

A Cottonmouth Snake eats a varied diet. This includes fish, salamanders, lizards, frogs, baby alligators, small mammals, birds and other snakes. Small prey, such as frogs, snakes, and fish are just held in the snake’s mouth until the venom kills them. Larger prey, such as mammals are immediately released after being bit. If they are able to flee, the Cottonmouth tracks them down. When the carcass is found, the snake examines it with its tongue to make sure it is dead before eating. They eat everything head first but will not eat live prey. In captivity, such as zoos, the Cottonmouth Snake is given mice, rats and chicks to eat.

Mating between Cottonmouths takes place in the spring. Eggs develop in the female but hatch within her body and are born live. Each mating can produce as many as a dozen baby snakes, all of which have yellow tails. However, the female only ovulates every other year. Gestation is from three to four months, and each baby snake is approximately eight to ten inches long.

The only predators of the Cottonmouth Snake are king snakes, largemouth bass, the Great Blue Heron and humans. An interesting fact about the venom of the Cottonmouth is that it is hemotoxic, meaning that it breaks down blood cells reducing the ability of blood to clot. This causes a hemorrhage wherever the venom penetrated the circulatory system.




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