Florida Cottonmouth

Florida Cottonmouth

Reptiles

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

COMMON NAME: Florida cottonmouth, cottonmouth, water moccasin
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Squamata
FAMILY: Viperidae
GENUS SPECIES: Agkistrodon (fish hook tooth) piscivorus (fish eater) conanti (honors Roger Conant)

FAST FACTS

DESCRIPTION: The Florida cottonmouth is a medium-bodied snake. Its color ranges from olive green to dark brown to jet black. It has a "bandit's mask", a dark line which runs through the eye, bordered above and below by white. Its head is spade shaped and noticeably larger and thicker than its neck. Its chin is a light cream color.
SIZE: Averages 75 cm (30 in.) in length; maximum length of 180 cm (72 in.)
WEIGHT: No data
DIET: They are excellent swimmers and feed primarily on aquatic species. Cottonmouths are carnivores, feeding on fishes, amphibians, birds, eggs, rodents, baby alligators, small turtles, and other snakes.
INCUBATION: 3-4 months
CLUTCH SIZE 12-16 young
SEXUAL MATURITY: No data
LIFE SPAN: No data
RANGE: Florida, southeastern Alabama, and southern Georgia. They are one of just three subspecies of the only venomous species of water snake in North America.
HABITAT: Cottonmouths inhabit wetland areas.
POPULATION: GLOBAL No data
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed

FUN FACTS

1. Snakes in this family are classified as pit vipers, noted for their facial pits, found below and between the eye and nostril on both sides of the head. The pit is highly sensitive to infrared radiation (heat) and serves as a direction finder in locating warm-blooded prey or predators.
2. These snakes are nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night. When catching frogs and fish, the cottonmouth holds its prey in its jaws until the venom takes effect. However, when capturing mammals, the cottonmouth bites, then releases the prey immediately because mammals are more likely to bite back. While the cottonmouth is capable of inflicting great damage through its bite, it rarely causes death in humans.
3. Several non-venomous water snakes are often mistaken for the cottonmouth. In the water, the cottonmouth floats very high, with most of its body visible above the water line. The non-venomous water snakes are less buoyant, swimming with little more than the head and neck exposed. When a cottonmouth feels threatened, it often opens its mouth, exposing the startling white interior. Unlike true water snakes, the cottonmouth will also vibrate its tail (though there is not a rattle). Unlike their copperhead cousins, cottonmouths will not often flee from predators or other perceived threats.
4. Contrary to population belief, cottonmouths are capable of biting underwater.

ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION

Cottonmouths are an important food source for larger animals such as king snakes, great blue herons, and an occasionally large mouth bass. They help keep our waterways clean because they are scavengers as well as predators.

Misidentification is responsible for the death of countless, harmless colubrid aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes that are mistaken for cottonmouths. Suburban housing and agricultural development destroy vast areas of habitat.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Misidentification is responsible for the death of countless, harmless colubrid aquatic and semi-aquatic snakes that are mistaken for cottonmouths. Suburban housing and agricultural development destroy vast areas of habitat.

May, Peter G. and Terence M. Farrell. "Florida's Flatwood's Cottonmouth". Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1998.

Mehrtens, John M. Living Snakes of the World. New York. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1987.

centralfloridazoo.org/florida_cottonmouth.htm

animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu