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cotton mouth

Cotton Mouth Facts

Fish, rodents, shrews, frogs, reptiles, birds, insects and eggs
interesting fact
The cottonmouth snake (also known as the water buckskin) is a highly venomous viper that spends most of its time near water.
litter size
up to 16 years old

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key point

  • Cottonmouths have a large spade-shaped head.
  • Cottonmouths are black, brown and olive, alternating in light and dark bands.
  • The cottonmouth and the buckskin are the same species of snake.

The cottonmouth (also known as the water buckskin) is a highly venomous viper that spends most of its time near water.

The cottonmouth is considered one of the few semiaquatic snakes in the world. They can sometimes be seen swimming in fresh and salt water areas. There are generally two species: the northern cottonmouth and the Florida cottonmouth.

This article will cover some interesting facts about the identification, habitat, diet, lifespan and size of these two species.

© AZ-Animals.com

What is the difference between a cottonmouth and a buckskin?

no difference. They're just two different names for the exact same species.

5 Surprising Facts

  • Cottonmouth deer go by many different names, including sambar buckskin, swamp buckskin buckskin, rusty buckskin buckskin, and black buckskin buckskin. A moccasin is essentially a shoe or slipper made of leather.
  • Cottonmouths can choose to mate all year round, but its breeding season is usually in April and May. To attract a mate, the male cottonmouth performs a combat dance in which he slides back and forth and flicks his tail. Males also fight each other for access to females. Cottonmouths are considered monogamous.
  • After a five-month gestation period, females give birth to an average of five to nine live pups at a time (usually up to 16). However, usually only two or three pups survive to adulthood due to the presence of natural enemies. Females take about three years to reach full sexual maturity (male sexual maturity is unknown). If they survive, their typical lifespan is 20 to 25 years.
  • Predators of juvenile or juvenile cottonmouths include eagles, egrets, raccoons, peacocks, largemouth bass, and snapping turtles. In contrast, adult cottonbills have few natural predators.
  • Female cottonmouths are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. This means they can have offspring without males (albeit at the expense of genetic diversity).
Cottonmouth vs Water Snake - Cottonmouth
Cottonmouth deer go by many different names, including sambar buckskin, swamp buckskin buckskin, rusty buckskin buckskin, and black buckskin buckskin.


where to find them

Cottonmouths can be found year-round in many aquatic locations in the southeastern United States, including cypress swamps, riverine floodplains, lakes, bays, and wetlands. Their range extends as far south as Illinois and west as far as Texas; there is also some overlap between northern Florida cottonmouth and Florida cottonmouth. They like to bask in the sun near logs, rocks, and branches near the water. The size of a cottonmouth snake's territory depends on its size and sex (males tend to have a larger range).

Cottonmouth fish swim in the water. This snake has a long, thick, muscular body and can reach a maximum of 6 feet.
Cottonmouths can be found year-round in many bodies of water in the southeastern United States, including cypress swamps, riverine floodplains, lakes, bays, and wetlands.

©Seth LaGrange/Shutterstock.com

scientific name

The northern cottonmouth's scientific name is Agkistrodon piscivorus , while the Florida cottonmouth's scientific name is Agkistrodon conanti . The genus name Agkistrodon essentially means hook tooth (or fishhook-like tooth), referring to the shape of the fang. The species name piscivorus essentially means piscivorus or fish eater, while conanti was named in honor of the famous herpetologist Roger Conant.

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The difference between Northern and Florida Cottonmouth only appeared in 2015. Before this time, three subspecies had been identified: eastern, western and Florida cottonmouth. However, based on DNA analysis, it was decided to make the Florida cottonmouth its own species and eliminate the East-West differences entirely. This leaves us with two species, Florida and Northern Cottonmouth, with no subspecies. Both species are closely related to the copperhead and the same genus, the viridian genus.

The northern cottonmouth's scientific name is Agkistrodon piscivorus, while the Florida cottonmouth's scientific name is Agkistrodon conanti.

© iStock.com/Chase D'animulls

Type of nozzle

There are two main species of cottonmouth. They differ very little in appearance and habits; however, the scales of the northern cottonmouth are darker in color.

  • Northern Cottonmouth – Eastern cottonmouth can be found in the southeastern United States.
  • Florida Cottonmouth – Florida Cottonmouths are found in the Midwestern United States.

History and Evolution

The Cottonmouth is known in the United States for its powerful venom, most notable for the stark white color of the inside of its mouth. This is where the snake got its name because it matches the color of the cotton.

The way these reptiles swim in the water also stands out from other aquatic snakes. Cottonbills glide over rivers and lakes, cruising with their heads held high. Although they tend to keep their heads above the water's surface, they have evolved the ability to attack underwater.

Another evolution of this snake is its blood poisonous venom. This type of venom prevents the wound from coagulating after a cottonmouth bite and also destroys the victim's red blood cells.

A discredited myth about these snakes is that a person can fall into a cottonmouth pit and suffer a fatal attack. One may remember what happened to a cowboy in the miniseries " The Lonely Dove". This is false because these snakes are actually solitary.

Population and Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, snakes are the species of least concern. While we don't have enough facts about the population size to make a proper estimate, this species appears to be fairly common throughout much of its natural range. However, the loss of wetland habitat throughout the southern United States does pose a threat to certain cottonmouth populations.

How to Identify Them: Appearance and Description

Adults can reach anywhere between 2 feet and 6 feet in length, with the largest recorded spout length being 74 inches. Males are usually longer and heavier, with more scales on their tails than females. This should make gender identification easier. The cottonmouth snake is characterized by a large spade-shaped head, bright white mouth, and alternating light and dark stripes. Black, brown, and olive are the most common colors; they help the snake blend into its surroundings. Juveniles and babies are also very different from adults. They have stronger contrasting bands; the tip of the tail is sometimes yellow or green as well.

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How to identify snakes:

  • Large spade head.
  • Long, thick, muscular body, up to 6 feet.
  • Black, brown and olive alternate in light and dark stripes.
  • bright white mouth.

You can learn more about cottonmouth species.

Cottonbills are characterized by a large spade-shaped head, bright white mouth, and alternating light and dark stripes.
Cottonbills are characterized by a large spade-shaped head, bright white mouth, and alternating light and dark stripes.

© iStock.com/Sadako

How dangerous are they?

These snakes have a strong venom that can damage tissue and cause significant swelling and pain. It is generally more dangerous than copperhead venom, but not as dangerous as rattlesnakes. The venom sometimes leaves permanent scars and rarely requires amputation, but is rarely fatal even without treatment. Still, you should seek medical attention immediately after being bitten. Antivenom is very effective at minimizing the effects of toxins.

cotton mouth
Cottonmouths are generally more dangerous than copperheads, but not as dangerous as rattlesnakes.

© Christian Bale/Shutterstock.com

Behavior and Humans

Cottonmouths are common throughout the South, and encounters with them are fairly common. While very dangerous in theory, in practice cottonmouth snakes tend not to bite very often. They would rather run away than run away. Before attacking, snakes give warning signals by wagging their tails, opening their mouths, and lifting their heads off the ground. Cottonmouths also emit a pungent, foul-smelling musk to deter potential threats. However, even if someone happens to bite you, they will purposely release less venom in a defensive bite than when attacking their prey.

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about the author

heather ross

Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

Cottonmouth FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What kind of snake is the cottonmouth snake mistaken for?

The cottonmouth is mistaken for many snakes, but one of the most dominant is the northern water snake. Both snakes are aquatic and similar in color. However, the main difference between northern water snakes and cottonmouths is that cottonmouth snakes are venomous while northern water snakes are not.

The cottonmouth is also sometimes confused with other water snakes, such as the yellow-bellied water snake or the Florida banded water snake. Again, yellow-bellied water snakes are not poisonous, while cottonmouth snakes are venomous.

What is the difference between a cottonmouth and a kingsnake?

When distinguishing between kingsnakes and cottonmouths, the most important difference is that kingsnakes are non-venomous, while cottonmouths are venomous. In fact, king snakes are a type of boa constrictor that often prey on venomous snakes!

How do cottonmouths compare to coachwhips?

Coachwhips are slimmer and faster than cottonmouths. The main difference between whip and cotton mouth is that the whip is non-toxic whereas the cotton mouth is poisonous.

Are cottonmouth fish poisonous?

Yes, cottonmouth venom is very dangerous. While they do tend to deter people by injecting only partial doses, the venom can still cause serious harm, especially if left untreated. People often err on the nomenclature and call this snake venomous. In fact, venomous animals produce and inject their own toxins, and venomous animals are poisonous to eat. Therefore, very few snakes are truly venomous.

How does the cottonbill hunt?

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Cottonmouths have several methods of finding and identifying prey. They often utilize their well-developed sense of hearing and vision. They can also sense odors by flicking their tongues into the air and pressing odor molecules against sensory organs in the roof of the mouth (they also smell with their noses, but not as well). Once they make the correct identification, the cottonmouth bites the prey and releases the venom into its body. Prey is penned until it dies. The cottonmouth has the ability to detach its jaws to swallow prey whole.

Are Cotton Mouths Aggressive?

These reptiles can be very aggressive if they are cornered or provoked in some way. Therefore, they should not be approached in the wild. However, most of these snakes would rather run away than hold their ground and strike.

Where do cottonmouths live?

These reptiles live near water sources, including wetland habitats, lakes, rivers, and bays. Northern cottonmouths can be found in various locations throughout the southeastern United States. As the name suggests, the range of Florida cottonswax is mostly limited to that state.

What do cottonmouths eat?

The diet consists mainly of fish, rodents and other small mammals. They also sometimes eat birds, frogs, turtles, eggs, insects, and other snakes. Baby cottonmouths are basically born to prey on smaller animals.

Why is it called cotton candy?

They are called cottonmouths because of the bright white inside of their mouths, which they show off when threatened. Water moccasins are another recognized name.

What is the difference between a cottonmouth and a rattlesnake?

The main difference between cottonmouth and rattlesnake is their preferred habitat and appearance. Cottonmouths have white mouths and rattlesnakes have rattles at the end of their tails.

What is the difference between a brown water snake and a cottonmouth?

Brown water snakes and cottonmouths differ in their appearance, preferred habitat, behaviour, diet and relative danger.

How do cottonmouths compare to timber rattlesnakes?

Both cottonmouth and timber rattlesnakes have overlapping territories, but they prefer different habitats. Cottonmouths prefer water, while wood rattlesnakes are often found in forested areas. Timber rattlesnake bites are generally considered more serious, although bites from both snakes require medical attention.

What's the difference between a black racer and a cotton mouth?

When comparing black race snakes and cottonmouths, the two snakes look very different despite their similar habitats in the southeastern United States. Most importantly, black racehorses are not poisonous, while cotton crows are poisonous.

Can cottonmouths breed with copperheads?

Because the two species belong to the same genus (Agkistrodon), hybridization is possible.

Are cottonmouth snakes more venomous than coral snakes?

Won't. Coral snakes are more venomous than cottonmouths.

What is the difference between a hognose snake and a cottonmouth snake?

The main difference between cottonmouths and hognose snakes is that cottonmouth snakes are highly venomous whereas hognose snakes are only dangerous to toads.

Check out other differences here!

Which is more venomous, the black mamba or the cottonmouth snake?

Black mambas are deadlier and more venomous than cottonmouth snakes.

What is the difference between a cobra and a cottonmouth snake?

The main differences between cottonmouths and cobras are their size, venom, and distribution.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the 10hunting.com editorial team.

  1. University of Georgia, available here: https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/agkpis.htm
  2. Animal Diversity website, available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Agkistrodon_piscivorus/