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Vipers and Pitvipers: Viperidae

Cottonmouth (agkistrodon Piscivorus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The cottonmouth gets its common name from the white, cottonlike color inside its mouth. Also known as the water moccasin, it is a large thick snake. Younger adults have brown or reddish bands on a yellowish background, while older individuals are usually all brown, greenish brown, or black. Juveniles have tails that are tipped with yellow or green. In the wild, adults may reach 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) in length and weigh 10 pounds (4.6 kilograms).

Geographic range: They are found in the southeastern quarter of the United States.

Habitat: The cottonmouth spends most of its time in or near the water, although it will sometimes crawl some distance onto land.

The cottonmouth spends most of its time in or near the water, although it will sometimes crawl some distance onto land. (Joe McDonald/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Cottonmouths will eat almost any animals they find. This includes birds, eggs, living and sometimes dead fishes, frogs, small alligators and turtles, snakes and other cottonmouths, and mammals.

Behavior and reproduction: Cottonmouths spend much of their time coiled up and out in the open. They hunt for food by swimming or slithering around looking for it or by staying still and waiting for the prey to mistakenly come a little too close. When they feel threatened, cottonmouths will strike and bite, but usually they remain motionless until the threat passes. Snakes that live in warmer areas are active all year, but those living in colder areas hibernate during the winter. During mating season, males sometimes fight one another for the chance to mate with a female. Females give birth to baby snakes instead of eggs in August or September. They have up to sixteen young at a time.

Cottonmouths and people: Although most cottonmouths are content to leave people alone, bites do occur. The venom is dangerous to humans and can be fatal. Humans also pose a great risk to the snakes by draining wetlands and otherwise destroying their habitat and also by killing the snakes out of fear.

Conservation status: This species is not considered endangered or threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesVipers and Pitvipers: Viperidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Vipers, Pitvipers, And People - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE