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Cottonmouth

Range:

These snakes inhabit Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, western Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Eastern Tennessee, and extreme Southeastern Nebraska.

Habitat:

This is the most aquatic species of Agkistrodon and is usually associated with bodies of water, such as creeks, streams, marshes, swamps and the shores of ponds and lakes. These snakes are also found in brackish water and have been seen swimming in salt water. They are almost always found by an area of water, although large specimens have been found over a mile away from water. Often bask on branches and rocks along the banks.

Characteristics:

This is the largest species of the genus Agkistrodon. The broad head is distinct from the neck, the snout blunt in profile with the rim of the top of the head extending forwards slightly further than the mouth. The body has a heavy build and a tail that is moderately long and slender. On the top of the head, a generalized pattern of nine symmetrical head plates is present. At mid-body, there are 23-27 rows of dorsal scales. Though the majority of specimens are almost or even totally black, the color pattern may consist of brown, gray, tan, yellowish olive or blackish ground color. These colors are overlaid with a series of 10-17 cross-bands that are dark brown to almost black.

Behavior:

Although venomous, the aggressiveness of these snakes has been greatly exaggerated. When sufficiently stressed, this species engages in a characteristic threat display that includes vibrating its tail and throwing its head back with its mouth open to display the startling white interior, while the neck and front part of the body are pulled into an S-shape. The cottonmouth can be found day or night and primarily hunts at night during the hottest parts of the year.

Reproduction:

The cottonmouth is an ovoviviparous, which means females incubate the eggs inside their own bodies. The gestation period is approximately 56 days and the incubation period is approximately 73 days. Females give birth to 1-16 young and possibly as many as 20. However, litters of 6-8 are the most common and the young are 22-35cm in length. If weather conditions are favorable and food is readily available, growth is rapid and females may reproduce at less than three years of age. The young are born in August or September, while mating may occur during any of the warmer months of the year.

Interesting Facts:

Although the cottonmouth preys upon a wide variety of animals, it has also been known to feed on carrion. When threatened the cottonmouth snake uses a defense response by flattening the body and emitting a strong, pungent secretion from the anal glands.

Cottonmouths, also called trap jaws or water moccasins, are primarily active at night. When threatened, a cottonmouth coils its body and threatens the intruder with its mouth wide open and its fangs exposed, showing the white lining of its mouth - thus, the name cottonmouth.

They are pit vipers and possess a pair of heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils that help them to locate warm-blooded prey and strike accurately, even in the dark. Their curved, hollow fangs are normally folded back along the jaw. When striking, the fangs rapidly swing forward and fill with venom as the mouth opens. The venom of the cottonmouth is hemotoxic. This means that the venom breaks down and destroys blood cells and other tissues and prevents clotting.

Conservation:

Constant persecution and water drainage of wetland habitat prior to development has lowered local populations. Despite this, the cottonmouth snake remains a common snake in many areas.

Did YOU Know?
The cottonmouth snake is a great swimmer and is capable of biting under water.
Cottonmouth
Range
Class: reptile
Order: Squamata
Family: Viperidae
Genus: Agkistrodon
Species: piscivorus piscivorus
Length: Usually 30-48 inches. Males usually larger
Average Lifespan: May live as long as 20 years in captivity.
Wild Diet: fish, frogs, salamanders, lizards, small turtles, baby alligators, birds, small mammals and other snakes
Zoo Diet: rats
Predators: Snapping turtles, American alligators, great horned owls, eagles, loggerhead shrikes
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building


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