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i live in central texas and there is always people talking about "water mocasin" snakes.  isnt a "water mocasin" the same as a cotton mouth?  

also i see these snakes quite a bit out fishing, actually one followed my nephews trick worm in the other day.  how dangerous are these snakes?  deadly?  i have heard they are mean and generally dont back down, and have a nasty attitude.

any info on this critter would be much appreciated

thanks

Cliff

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Cliff,

I am a land surveyor and learned my craft in the swamps of Louisiana. A "Cotton Mouth" is a water moccasin. They get their name for the distinctively bright white lining in their mouth. They are usually not aggressive and will leave you alone if you don't mess with them. I know several people personally who have been bitten and some of those more than once. One friend of mine logged cypress and was bitten several times over the years. The bite is nasty and will cause swelling and tissue death, but it is rarely fatal. I surveyed 27 square miles of cypress swamp in Pontchatoula, LA. we saw many cotton mouths every day and never had a problem. Just give them their space and you shouldn't have any trouble with them. JMPO

Ronnie

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thanks ronnie, i appreciate it.  i was a bit nervous when that one followed in my nephews worm.  i made them both stand back away from the bank for a bit just to be safe.

Cliff

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What Ronnie said.

I'll add that "Water Moccasin" is a non-descript term of any snake associated with water. Most people don't know a water snake from a cottonmouth, so they call them all water moccasin. Even some people who don't live in the range of the cottonmouth swear they have "poisonous water moccasins." That's a shame because a lot of harmless water snakes are killed in the mistaken belief they are cottonmouths.

Cottonmouths are pretty docile as far as snakes go. I've nearly stepped on them and even squatted over one without knowing. (I'm still thanking God for the squatting one. ;D) They do have a tendency to hold their ground. Many snakes will try to get away, but cottonmouths tend to coil up and show you their mouths. Be aware that ALL snakes become "livelier" the warmer it gets. A cottonmouth on a 60 degree day is going to be less enthusiastic than it would be on an 88 degree day.

The venom is hemotoxic and myotoxic. It destroys red blood cells, vascular tissue, connective tissue and muscle tissue. Most bites are "dry," meaning they inject no venom. Snakes tend to conserve venom since they need it to start the digestive process. But some will inject venom, but usually not much. A bite will cause swelling and hemorrhaging. A bite to, say, the hand may cause some permanent disability. A bite to the finger may cause loss of that finger. A severe bite can cause death. 100 mg of cottonmouth venom is considered a lethal dose to an adult human. Adult cottonmouths carry more than that, but usually only inject a tiny fraction of it.

An equal concern is that cottonmouths harbor a lot of bacteria and parasites in their mouths. Many bites result in infections, and some even gangrene.

I live near a reservoir that has a large population of Cottonmouths. There are walking trails and a golf courses right up to the water's edge. People fish in that reservoir. And the only person I've ever known to be bitten was actually out capturing cottonmouths for a master's degree thesis. Here's a warning sign on the trail around that reservoir.  Funny thing about that sign - it says you "are entering."  Heck, I've seen more cottonmouths before you get to that sign than beyond it  ;D.  

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I tend to disagree about Cottonmouths being docile.  Of course I am also terrified of snakes and will go WAY out of my way to avoid them (which is funny because I spend most of my time, wet-wading in southern Alabama creeks and streams).

Just like any snake, keep your distance and be careful.  On two seperate occasions I've had Cottonmouths come AT me and almost chase me.  

Once was night fishing for catfish in the middle of July two years ago.  At about 1am we were hiking back from below a spillway and were walking across the emergency overflow area (basically just giant concrete steps without water).  My light shined over a coiled up Cottonmouth about 10 feet away.  We stoped where we were, and as my friend said that he thought it was a Cottonmouth, it suddenly hissed, and jumped at us.  This is something I thought only happened in movies.  I didn't know snakes would hiss in real life, or that the ywould jump and bite at you.  I kind of figured tv shows it just to look cool.  But this thing over 10 feet away came charging at us hissing as it did so.  When it got closer it snapped at my friend two or three times.  

I have no idea why it would go out of it's way to come at us.  Oh well, always better to err on the side of extreme caution.

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Cliff,

I am a land surveyor and learned my craft in the swamps of Louisiana. A "Cotton Mouth" is a water moccasin. They get their name for the distinctively bright white lining in their mouth. They are usually not aggressive and will leave you alone if you don't mess with them.

I don't know about that non-aggressive part....When i was in TX plenty of them went after people in public lakes,ponds and swamps.From my experience they are really aggressive.I spent 17 years in TX and water moccasins were really the only snakes i saw more often than any other snake that lives in TX.I'm guessing it was just because they got used to people being around.

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Cliff,

I am a land surveyor and learned my craft in the swamps of Louisiana. A "Cotton Mouth" is a water moccasin. They get their name for the distinctively bright white lining in their mouth. They are usually not aggressive and will leave you alone if you don't mess with them.

I don't know about that non-aggressive part....When i was in TX plenty of them went after people in public lakes,ponds and swamps.From my experience they are really aggressive.I spent 17 years in TX and water moccasins were really the only snakes i saw more often than any other snake that lives in TX.I'm guessing it was just because they got used to people being around.

I think you saw more Cotton Mouths because they are very common in the Southern warm wet climates. As far as aggression is concerned, my guess is that snakes that are in more 'public' places get harassed by people more and could possibly become more aggressive over time. The snakes that I ran into were in places that few people have ever been. Speaking to Snowbass23's experience, Vipers have vertical pupils in their eyes that open more quickly to let light in (like a cat). If you surprised me in the middle of the night with a bright flashlight to the eyeballs, I might snap at you too. LOL ;)

Ronnie

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Even some people who don't live in the range of the cottonmouth swear they have "poisonous water moccasins." That's a shame because a lot of harmless water snakes are killed in the mistaken belief they are cottonmouths.

ive seen what i believe to be a cottonmouth here in Delaware and ill admit im not too educated as far as identifying snakes goes. However i have heard way to many people that do know what they are talking about say they have seen cottonmouths around here to believe what the internet tells me.

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ive seen what i believe to be a cottonmouth here in Delaware and ill admit im not too educated as far as identifying snakes goes. However i have heard way to many people that do know what they are talking about say they have seen cottonmouths around here to believe what the internet tells me.

I'm not saying it's not possible, but it's not likely either.

The northernmost population of Eastern Cottonmouth exists here in Virginia, at the confluence of the Appomattox and James River, near Hopewell. The next northernmost population occurs in Newport News, Virginia, where I live. No Eastern Cottonmouths have been found north of Petersburg, VA. None have been found on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Ranges (Distribution) are carefully documented through the collection of voucher specimens. Most states have herpatology societies that perform much of these collections through field surveys and followups on rumors. Once a voucher specimen has been collected, it has to be authenticated by an authoritative entity, like a university. Once that it done, a range "extension" can be submitted to some journal or publication. Then it takes time to be accepted by the herp community.

On two occassions in 2006 I saw cottonmouths in the swampy northern edge of Chickahominy Reservoir in New Kent County, Virginia. I contacted an environmental scientist at a local university and advised him of my observations. But without a voucher specimen or a good photograph where both species and location can be verified, my observation only amount to an anecdotal account of a snake being where it isn't expected. Where I saw those snakes is half way between Hopewell and Newport News so a snake being there would be VERY close to it's natural range. But it would not be accepted.

A cottonmouth in Delaware is so far outside it's known range, over land and water barriers, that a population there is highly doubtful. if one or two exists, they are probably released captured snakes.

There is a lot of science that goes into determining the range of a snake. The internet just gives you the broadest result without the science that went into it.

Here is a map showing loations where voucher specimens have been collected.  The red dot indicates where I saw the cottonmouths in 2006.  

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That map only shows the distribution of the "Eastern" Cottonmouth.  You have the "Western Cottonmouth" in Arkansas.  Florida has the "Florida" Cottonmouth.

This shows the distribution of all three species.

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Thanks for the clarification Micro.  I need to learn a little more before opening my mouth again...

I also have a question. I live in a relatively low area.  I've noticed quite a few more cottonmouths around here than up in the northwestern part of the state in the Ozark Mountains.  Is my observation that we have don't have as many cottonmouths in the hill country as we do in the delta region correct?

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Thanks for the clarification Micro. I need to learn a little more before opening my mouth again...

I also have a question. I live in a relatively low area. I've noticed quite a few more cottonmouths around here than up in the northwestern part of the state in the Ozark Mountains. Is my observation that we have don't have as many cottonmouths in the hill country as we do in the delta region correct?

Probably - it's a lowland species.  

That map I posted showing the distribution doesn't mean that the snake can be found in every part of the shaded area.  Snakes develope and live in isolated populations from each other (some larger than others).  Populations can develope, then be seperated by human developement - highways, or houses.   Weather events and flooding can disperse populations.  And of course, snakes won't be found in unsuitable habitat.   Cottonmouths prefer lowland areas with sutiable hibernating areas close to water.   You may find hundreds of cottonmouths near a pond or lake, and then not find any 1/2 mile away in some rocky hills.  

In the reservoir near where I live, cottonmouths can be found in the northern portion of the reservoir, which has become very swampy due to a beaver dam.  But you find hardly any in the southern part of the lake which is less than a mile away.  I haven't seen any for years outside this reservoir complex.

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Micro are you a herpetologist? Although I hate cottonmouths, I have learned alot from you about snakes in the last few days. Thanks, I'll try to be a little more patient with them, note on try.

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