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The Cottonmouth Water Moccasin
(Agkistrodon piscivorus)

There is only one North American poisonous water snake - the Cottonmouth Water Moccasin! Not to be confused at all with its many nonpoisonous neighbors, this snake is a pit viper in the same general family as the Copperhead and the Rattler.

This dangerous semi-aquatic snake is truly an aggressive reptile that will stand its ground or even approach an intruder.

Regional variations do occur, so never handle a water snake of any kind for fear of a nasty, bacteria-rich or venomous bite!

They favor lying dormant on logs, rocks or limbs at water's edge awaiting the telltale movement of approaching prey. It is characterized by a brown, olive or blackish dark body with lighter belly, and body crossbands which have a distinct border extending all the way around and across the yellowish stomach.

Young, born live, are much brighter and often are most similar in color to the Copperhead, each with a bright yellow or lime greenish tail tip. These snakes readily vibrate their tails when provoked or approached and can make an impressive 'rattling' sound when placed against leaves, water, or solid objects. The older snakes tend to lose the obvious pattern effect and appear to be darker and bland colored. The triangular shaped head is evident even at rest, set off with distinct elliptical 'cat-eye' pupils and a dark facial line extending through the eye. Powerful jaws support this snake's habit of latching on during a bite rather than the quick strike and release pattern of its cousin the Copperhead.

The main subspecies included in the genus Agkistrodon are the Western Cottonmouth, piscivorus leucostoma (pictured on this page), the Eastern, and the Florida Cottonmouth. In general, these snakes are an average length of around 30 inches, but specimens of the Western in excess of 54 inches have been captured by the author. Easterns have been measured at above 6 feet but are rare. Subspecies are accounted for in Central America, Asia, southeastern Europe, and Malaysia. They tend to exhibit the behavioral characteristics of territorial animals by defending and guarding a specific area, thus appearing to be more aggressive than most snakes. Typically, the nonpoisonous snakes which reside with the Cottonmouths are longer, less stout-bodied, flee when approached, and exhibit round pupils, along with a plain yellowish or white belly void of any band markings.


Make no mistake, the Cottonmouth is a dangerous predator and can inflict a brutally damaging hemotoxic bite!

This 'Cottonmouth' or 'trapjaw' can snap shut with lightening speed instantly when touched, and can deliver a large venom dose to prey or victims alike!

The Cottonmouth derives its name from the habit of lying in a sprawled coil, head flung back, with the mouth resting in an ominous open position exposing the white inner surface of the mouth almost straight up.

  A video with great action, exciting details, and plenty of supporting ID shots can really enliven the understanding of this prevalent and most threatening snake - see order page for information on 'Cottonmouth - the Movie".



Authored by CONCISE COMMUNICATIONS. This page last updated on 09/28/97.
Copyright 1997 CONCISE COMMUNICATIONS & TNE, Inc. All rights reserved.
Information in this document is subject to change without notice.
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