Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
The cottonmouth is sometimes called "water moccasin", but this may be misleading, as this name is also used to refer to several other types of wetland snakes. It gets its common name from the white color of the inside of its mouth, which it flashes when threatened or startled.
A venomous snake of the pit viper family (Crotalidae), the cottonmouth lives in wetland areas in the Southeastern United States. Like other pit vipers, it has heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils. The fangs are hollow to inject venom. The habitat stretches along the coast from Louisiana to the Carolinas. As with most venomous snakes, the head is spade- or triangle-shaped and thicker than the neck. The eyes of a cottonmouth, like other pit vipers, have catlike slit-shaped pupils. (Nonvenomous snakes have round pupils.) It has a dark gray/olive/black pattern on its back, a light snout, and a light belly. The body is thick and usually grows to about 30 to 48 inches in length, occasionally up to six feet.
Cottonmouths are viviparous. A female will breed every two years and will bear a litter of up to 12 or 15 live young. The striped or marbled pattern will be bright in the young snakes, but the color fades with age until the snake is almost a solid dark color.
It will eat a variety of small animals, including rodents, birds, amphibians, fish, and even other snakes. It usually waits until the prey is dead before swallowing it. One might even use the tip of its tail to lure fish closer to capture them.
The venom from a cottonmouth is rarely deadly to humans, but it can be very serious. It is hemolytic, destroying red blood cells, and it clots the blood around the area of a bite. The coagulant property of the venom makes it useful in medicine to treat certain blood conditions.