Authored by Rodney Southern in Nature and Wildlife
Published on 02-26-2009
The cottonmouth is a venomous snake that can be found all across the coastal plain of North Carolina, as well as the area around the Piedmont and below. The snake is referred to with a number of different names; the cottonmouth, the water snake, the water moccasin, the copperhead, and the white mouth. Several of these names are highly inaccurate as the copperhead and the water snake are totally different species altogether, though they are sometimes mixed up by a scared individual. The cottonmouth is very much a venomous snake that is dangerous and potentially lethal in the right setting.
The cottonmouth is a large snake by North American standards and is usually quite thick around the middle. A full grown cottonmouth seems to appear heavy, and can be easily distinguished from the copperhead by the black line that runs from the jawline to the eye. The colors of the cottonmouth can vary by region, age, and even by the type of environment that the snake has found itself in. They can be black, olive, brown, or even in rare cases, albino. The cottonmouth also has some very dark crossbands that are often very difficult to see in older specimens. The underside of the cottonmouth is usually a light color and is commonly splotched with gray or black.
The young cottonmouth almost looks like a whole different species as it is generally tan with a very distinct pattern of crossbands. Also, the cottonmouth young have a yellow tail that they use to imitate a worm to dray prey close.
The cottonmouth is also easy to identify because of behavior. They are often quite aggressive and are one of the few snakes that will not always retreat when approached. The most common reaction from a cottonmouth is to gape open their mouth, baring a silky white mouth with two large hinged fangs tucked under the roof of the mouth. They also will vibrate their tails. Some think that this is to mimic the deadly sounds of the rattlesnake. When a cottonmouth has taken this stance, it is a good idea to get out of the way. A cottonmouth has a lightening quick strike that you can not avoid if you are in close. Keep your distance from this deadly reptile.
The cottonmouth is very much a snake that stays close to water. They are very good swimmers and will spend hours lounging around the side of a lake on a log waiting for lunch to come by. Many think that the cottonmouth is territorial in nature, and this is the reason that they do not retreat. The bite of the cottonmouth should be considered a medical emergency as the venom is quite dangerous for humans as well as prey.