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Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti                             Photo Fiona Sunquist ©

The cottonmouth or water moccasin, as it is also sometimes called, gets its name from the whitish color of the inside of its mouth, which is displayed when the snake makes its characteristic open-mouth threat.

Cottonmouth open mouth threat

                                                                        Photo Fiona Sunquist ©

Cottonmouths are large, heavy-bodied, dark gray-brown snakes with abruptly tapering tails. There is a faint diamond pattern on the back. They are one of the most common venomous snakes in Florida. Cottonmouth venom is hemotoxic; it destroys red blood cells, leads to bruising and internal bleeding, and results in considerable tissue damage.

These snakes are opportunistic hunters, and eat fish, frogs, birds, small mammals and rabbits.  They are sometimes seen in wading bird rookeries, feeding on young birds that have fallen from nests.  Young cottonmouths attract prey by using the bright yellow tip of their tail as a lure.

Cottonmouths swim well and generally live near water.  When swimming, this snake inflates its lung, so that much of its body floats.  In contrast, the banded, brown, and Florida green water snakes, with which the cottonmouth is often confused, swim with only their head and neck above the water’s surface.

How to distinguish between a cottonmouth and a brown water snake.

Cottonmouths bear live young.  They typically give birth to 3-12 young in August and September.  Cottonmouths are known to live at high densities. Commercial snake hunters once claimed to be able to kill 300 cottonmouths in a single night’s hunting.  Recent scientific studies suggest that in some habitats, cottonmouths do indeed reach densities of 700 per hectare – or 280 per acre.


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Wildlife of Florida 2011
Wildlife of Florida 2011
Fiona Sunquist
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Wildlife of Florida: Lizards
Fiona Sunquist
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