Cottonmouth, Florida


Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti  


Adults average 36 inches in length. Heads are spade shaped and noticeably larger and thicker than the necks. At birth, cottonmouths resemble copperhead snakes with their light hourglass markings on a dark reddish background. Adults lose their juvenile coloration and become brownish black in color. Dark brown cheek stripes are edged with light lines. A pair of dark lines runs to the tip of the snout. Faint brown stripes encircle the body. The chin is a light cream color.

Family

Viperidae

Order

Squamata

Class

Reptilia

Range

Virginia south throughout Florida, and west to Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas

Habitat

Any wetlands or waterways - streams, springs, rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, sloughs, reservoirs, retention pools, canals, and roadside ditches

Life Expectancy

A captive bred Florida cottonmouth survived 15 years and 8 months in captivity.

Sexual Maturity

At least by 18 months

Diet

In the wild, they eat almost any animal small enough to swallow - fish, other snakes, young turtles, baby alligators, amphibians, small mammals and other various invertebrates. In the Zoo, they are fed rats and mice.

Status

IUCN - Least Concern

Behaviors

When threatened, the cottonmouth may respond by coiling its body and opening its mouth as though ready to bite. The exposed white interior of the mouth is what gave rise to the common name, “cottonmouth.” Unlike non-venomous water snakes, the cottonmouth tends to hold its ground rather than go immediately into the water when approached. Another unique characteristic when compared to other water snakes is that the cottonmouth swims with its head well out of the water. Occasionally the cottonmouth wanders far from water, and has been found in bushes and trees. It is also common on many offshore keys. Females give birth from one to 15 babies, averaging seven inches in length. Mating occurs throughout the year. Females produce a litter every other year.

Adaptions

The cottonmouth is one of the most common venomous snakes in Florida. Its bite should be considered dangerous and often causes serious tissue damage and can occasionally be fatal. The young have bright yellow colored tails used as a lure to attract frogs to an area within their strike range.

Special Interests

Cottonmouths can easily be distinguished from other water snakes. When the head is viewed from above, you cannot see the eyes of cottonmouths, yet you can see the eyes of water snakes. Cottonmouths also have elliptical pupils while water snakes have round pupils. Cottonmouths have a facial pit between the nostril and the eye, and water snakes do not. Some people believe cottonmouths lie in wait on tree limbs overhanging water so they can drop into boats. These are usually cases of mistaken identity. The harmless brown water snake is often basking on tree limbs over the water, and when frightened by a rapidly approaching boat, they will escape by throwing themselves off the limb and into the water. Occasionally their flight comes too late and they coincidentally fall into a boat. The Florida cottonmouth, also called the water moccasin, is one of three subspecies of venomous water snakes in North America. Cottonmouths are one of the pit vipers. Palisot de Beauvois used the term “moccasin” as the earliest name of the Northern copperhead. The name “water moccasin” probably came from Agkistrodon contortix mokasen, the scientific name of the copperhead. Over time the term “moccasin” became widely used and was applied to cottonmouths, copperheads, and other water snakes and serpents. In fact, the cottonmouth was called the lowland moccasin and the copperhead was called the highland moccasin. In 1837, Schlegel suggested that the term “moccasin” referred to the color of the snake and its resemblance to Native American footwear. It is strongly recommended that this term not be used for any species. It is confusing and has been misapplied to similar looking water snakes. Many water snakes in the genus Nerodia look similar to the cottonmouth and have been wrongly persecuted and killed like Florida’s banded water snakes.

Folklore

Traditionally snakes were often associated with serpents usually known as water-bound creatures in the British Isles and Europe. Poisonous snakes were feared with vipers often being the snake promoted as the most venomous of all upon those who were full of greed.

Conservation

Not endangered

Jacksonville Zoo History

This species first appears in the Zoo’s animal collection in March 1957.

Exhibit

Wild Florida