Poisonous Snakes of Georgia: The Cotton Mouth

Today we’ll continue discussing some of the snakes you may encounter when taking time outside to enjoy the country.  Again, please remember these animals are a valuable part of the ecosystem and should not be harmed unless you are in immediate peril.  Also, please remember the reason we are posting these is to help you in identifying some of the animals you may see in the wild.  We’re highlighting the poisonous snakes first, to help you know identify these animals, because they ,in particular, should never be handled and should be given plenty of room.

Once again, for more information on poisonous snakes of Georgia and South Carolina please visit these guys or the UGA website.

Menacing looking isn’t he?

The above picture shows a younger cottonmouth picture that I took in Phinizy Swamp.  The cottonmouth or water moccassin is a relatively common snake in our area and is probably the most frequently seen of our poisonous snakes. 

The cottonmouth or Agkistrodon piscivorus is a dark thick bodied water snake.  They range anywhere from 20″ to approximately 74″ in length.  Their coloring varies slightly but is generally dark olive or dark brown above and can either have serrated crossbands or be completely patternless.  As a general rule the younger cottonmouth, such as the one above, has more defined crossbands.  As they become older their bands begin to fade into a more solid dark olive or brown color.  For example:


Water Moccasin

This is a photo of an adult.  Notice how the bands are less visible?  While they are still relatively noticeable as the bands reach the lighter underbelly, they begin to fade to the darker colors with age.  The amount of darkening varies with the snake and some can appear completely patternless as merely a very dark olive or brown snake.  Also note in this photograph the arrowhead shape of the snake’s head.This is also a helpful indicator.  While there are some poisonous snakes with a similar head shapes, such as the brown water snake (a snake that is often confused with a cottonmouth), all pit vipers have such a head shape.

The brown water snake (above) is often confused with the cotton mouth.

The habitat for the Cottonmouth is most anywhere you can find water.  Typically they can be found in lowland swamps, lakes, rivers, canals and creeks.  One should always be on the lookout for cottonmouths when in any type of swampy area.

Cottonmouths are unlike many snakes in that they will tend to stand their ground when threatened or annoyed.  Most snakes, even the venemous ones, will attempt to relocate if they are disturbed.  Not always so with the Cottonmouth.  When threatened they will often stand their ground and gape their mouth at the “intruder.”  In so doing they will show you their fangs and the white lining of its mouth  (Thus Cottonmouth). If you see one doing this, back away immediately.  This is as clear a warning as you can get that the snake is agitated. 

The diet of the Cottonmouth is greatly varied.  They can and do eat both cold and warm-blooded species.  From amphibians such as frogs and toads, other reptiles such as other water snakes, and such animals as fish, salamander, lizards, small turtles, baby alligators, birds, and small mammals.

Cottonmouths are primarily active at night.  However, because they spend so much time in the water and they are cold-blooded, they must bask in the day to regulate body temperature.  They are most often seen by people as they bask on rocks or longs near the water.

Just like the Copperhead, the Cottonmouth is a pit viper.  However, unlike a Copperhead, a Cottonmouth’s bite is very serious.  While any venemous bite is serious a Copperhead’s rarely results in serious danher to an adult human.  Cottonmouth bites can sometimes kill an adult.  Still despite what is often said it is extremely rare for a snake bite in the U.S. to result in death.

I’ve personally come into close contact with these snakes on numerous occassions.  I’ve even had one crawl over my boot when in the woods.  I have never had one take an aggressive posture with me, even in close proximity.  As a general rule they are not as aggressive as the are often accredited for.  I think one could safely enjoy watching these interesting creatures froma safe distance.  Nonetheless, one should never underestimate them and any bite could be very serious.  Enjoy them, but at a distance.

For more information on Cottonmouths you can look here and here.  There are also several more intriguing photographs here.


Ryan Brashear


About Ryan Brashear

Ryan Brashear has been a licensed REALTOR® for 14 years specializing in land, farm and acreage sales in the CSRA. He is co-owner and Vice President of Brashear Realty Corporation as well as co-owner of Brashear Development Corporation. He has served as a Past President of the Greater Augusta Association of REALTORS® and is currently serving as a Vice President of the Georgia Association of REALTORS®.
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