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Cottonmouth

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Species group:

Other common names: Water Moccasin; Eastern Cottonmouth; Florida Cottonmouth; Western Cottonmouth; Black Moccasin

Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus

The Basics:
Often basking on partially submerged logs in large numbers, the Cottonmouth is one of the USA’s most commonly-encountered venomous snakes. Three subspecies range from southeastern Virginia to southern Illinois and central Texas, and south to the upper Florida Keys; there is an isolated population in north-central Missouri.

Cottonmouths frequent slow-moving bodies of water such as swamps, sloughs, canals, rice fields, ponds and lakes. Although highly aquatic, they will forage in fields, open woodlands and farms, often far from water.

Appearance / Health:
The background color varies from olive or brown to nearly black. Most individuals are patterned with irregular, dark cross-bands, but unmarked specimens are common. Heavy-bodied and venomous, the Cottonmouth averages 3-5 feet in length, with a record size of 6 feet, 2 inches. It is often mistaken for several of the large, harmless Watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) that share its habitat.

Cottonmouths have lived to age 25+ in zoos. They should not be kept in private collections.

Behavior / Temperament:
These rattlesnake relatives are highly venomous and have been responsible for human fatalities. Zookeepers consider them to be generally high strung and dangerous. The name “cottonmouth” arose from this species’ threat display – when cornered, it gapes widely to expose the cottony-white interior of the mouth. If this fails to dissuade the intruder, the snake strikes repeatedly. Basking animals drop into the water and swim away when disturbed.

Housing:
Venomous snake species are not suitable as pets in private collections. It is impossible for a private snake owner to adequately prepare for or treat a venomous snakebite, or, prior to a bite, to arrange for treatment in a hospital.

Diet:
The natural diet is extremely varied, including bream and other fish, sirens and other salamanders, frogs, hatchling alligators and turtles, lizards, snakes, birds and mammals such as rice rats. They have even been observed consuming chunks of fat from road-killed pigs!

Breeding:
Females generally reproduce once every two years, usually in August and September. The young, 1-20 in number, are born alive and are 7-13 inches in length. They are reddish brown and vividly marked, and use their bright yellow tails to lure frogs, lizards, and other prey. Sexual maturity is reached in 3-4 years.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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