Learn powerful up to date methods from the experts that will stop Water Moccasins in their tracks and get rid of them for good.
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All About Water Moccasins and Cottonmouths
Water moccasins, often called cottonmouth snakes, are a venomous snake native to Florida and Georgia. They are pit vipers that are easily identified by their tendency to open their mouths wide exposing their fangs and the vast white interior of their mouths. As its name implies, water moccasins are often found in or near water, but they are sometimes found a bit away from water. Water moccasins are known by many other names, most notably the cottonmouth. Other nicknames for the water moccasin include black moccasins, gapers, mangrove rattlers, snap jaws, swamp lions, water mambas, and water pilots. Like most poisonous snakes, water moccasins are not particularly aggressive, but they should be avoided at all costs.
Because of their strong association with the water, many people think that any snake that is seen swimming or near the bank of a river is a water moccasin. It doesn’t help that many of the non-venomous water snakes have similar markings to the cottonmouth/water moccasin. The scientific name for the water moccasin is Agkistrodon piscivorus. The scientific name, which is derived from both Greek and Latin terms translates to tooth-hooked fish-eater. Yikes! He sounds like a pleasant fellow to encounter on your kayak trip down the river!
Water moccasins are often mistaken for other non-venomous water snakes. Water moccasins, or cotton mouths are a hefty robust in appearance snake, not thin and slender like a ribbon snake. They are the largest of the moccasin in the genus Agkistrodon. Adult cottonmouth snakes range from 2-4 feet in length. The coloring on adult water moccasins is different from the coloring on a juvenile water moccasin. Juvenile water moccasins are brown to tan with darker color, reddish brown crossbands down the back. These crossbands contain many speckles. Juveniles also have a yellowish tip on their tail. The young cottonmouth snake uses this yellow tip as a lure. To unsuspecting prey, this yellow tip looks like a tasty caterpillar. This prompts the hungry caterpillar eater to get closer and then the young cottonmouth strikes! As this species ages, their coloring becomes overall much darker so that they often appear uniformly dark brown. If closely examined, remnants of their original banded pattern may be visible, but most people at the local swimming hole don’t stop to examine the adult cotton mouth that closely.
Cottonmouth snakes have a dark stripe that runs through their eye, and as a member of the pit viper, the cottonmouth has a pit between its eye and nose. This pit is actually a heat sensing organ which enables the pit viper to be deadly accurate when it strikes out at its warm-blooded victim. The thick, broad, and blocky head and rounded snout are distinct from the snake’s body. Water moccasins can be difficult to accurately identify in the moment that fear and panic strikes you. Knowing other behaviors and characteristics of water moccasins can help you determine whether it is a harmless non-venomous water snake or indeed the dreaded cottonmouth.
Water Moccasin Habitat
As expected, water moccasins are usually found in or near the water. They are found throughout most areas of the southeastern United States. Water moccasins are considered semi aquatic meaning that they are just as comfortable swimming on land as they are warming themselves from the heat of a rock on land. Cotton mouths are not often found in swift moving waters, rather they prefer slow moving rivers, shallow lakes, and even marshes. However, they are quite capable swimmers and have even been located in saltwater or brackish bays and estuaries. Any body of water, no matter how small, may host a water moccasin. They have been found in natural springs, reservoirs, retention ponds, canals and roadside ditches. However, even when far from water, cottonmouth snakes may still strike. They are adaptable. Occasionally, they are found in bushes and trees far from any water.
Water Moccasin Behaviors
Water moccasins are excellent swimmers. They are most often observed in their aquatic environment. As any naturalist knows, when we embark upon any body of water, we humans are the invader. Whether you are swinging from a tire swing into your favorite swimming hole, serenely fishing your favorite river, or appreciating wildlife from a kayak, we humans are entering a world in which we only tangentially belong.
When you see a swimming snake, do not automatically assume it is a water moccasin. There are many species of snakes that swim. Water moccasins often conceal themselves under a log or rock near the water’s edge. This way, they can make a quick escape should they feel threatened by a land based animal or human. When observed in the water, water moccasins have a distinctive look. Despite their thick girth, when they swim their bodies appear to float on the surface of the water. They hold their heads up as if looking about, and water moccasins move quickly over the water. In contrast, non-venomous water snakes do not swim high in the water and their heads are kept at the surface of the water. In addition, non-venomous water snakes tend to dart under the water if they sense danger, whereas water moccasins hold steady to their course on gliding on the water’s surface.
Water moccasins are solitary snakes and during the breeding season are considered monogamous. In colder climates, water moccasins hibernate, but in the south the sleep may be short in duration, or they may omit it altogether. Mating occurs in the spring and the eggs develop inside of the female cottonmouth for 4-5 months. Water moccasins are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs hatch inside the female’s body and she gives birth to live young. Usually, she gives birth to 6-8 snakelets, but sometimes as many as 20 are born.
Likely the most characteristic behavior of a cottonmouth snake is its defensive display of fangs. Herpetologists agree that most snakes would prefer to avoid conflict with humans and flee. If they cannot flee, they often try to bluff their way out of the situation. Only when absolutely necessary do they expend their valuable venom on something that will not yield a meal. The terrifying display of the fangs and seemingly cotton lined mouth is cottonmouth’s final warning before it strikes. If they feel threatened cottonmouth snakes coil their body and lift their head high. Cottonmouth snakes open their large mouths wide exposing dagger like fangs and vast bright white mouth interior. The brightness of their mouths contrast with their dark bodies and should cause any person to back off. In addition to this terrifying display, water moccasins can also emit a foul odor and vibrate its tail which makes a vibrating sound. These defensive displays are highly effective as most people with sense recognize this creature for the dangerous animal that it is and back away.
What Do Water Moccasins Eat?
While water moccasins can be seen both in the day and at night, they are more active at night. On warm days they will most likely be coiled in the shade near a body of water, and on cooler days they may be found stretched upon a log basking in the sunlight. However, at night they hunt. Water moccasins hunt at night on both land and in the water.
Water moccasins eat fish, frogs, small alligators, birds and their eggs, mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits. They are one of the few snakes that will eat carrion, or an animal that has been previously killed. Intrinsic to its diet, water moccasins can bite underwater. Cottonmouth snakes attack their prey, striking them with their fangs and injecting their deadly venom. They wrap their body around their prey, holding tight to the meal while it dies. Once dead, water moccasins swallow the meal whole. They are opportunistic feeders and are capable hunters both on land and in the water.
Water Snakes vs. Water Moccasins
In both Georgia and Florida there are many species of water snakes that are often needlessly killed because people assume they are a water moccasin. Non-venomous water snakes aren’t venomous or dangerous, but they are known for being aggressive. Even if you don’t touch them, they might turn hostile when approached.
These non-venomous water snakes of the genus Nerodia include the following species:
Eastern Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana)
Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota)
Red-Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata)
Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)
These non-venomous water snakes are easily distinguished from the feared water moccasin by several prominent features. The body size of the water moccasin is characterized by a thick bulky body with a short thick tail. A water moccasin simply looks like it would be a hefty lift should you decide to grasp it. Non-venomous water snakes bodies are thin and wispy looking with long slender tails. A caveat to this bulky/slender distinction is when harmless water snakes feel threatened, they try to flatten their body so that it appears thick and beefy like a water moccasin.
The head and neck shapes between non-venomous water snakes and water moccasins are dramatically different. A water moccasin has a large, blocky head. Widthwise, the water moccasin’s head extends beyond the beginning of its neck. When looking at a water moccasin’s head from above, you will see an obvious neck that is more slender than the head. A non-venomous water snake’s head is small and slender just like its body. A harmless water snake does not have an obvious neck, rather its head seamlessly blends into its body. Again, when threatened these water snakes will attempt to flatten their head to make it look more like a water moccasin. Despite its best efforts though, a non-venomous water snake will not be able to replicate the distinct neck on a water moccasin.
The next test for distinguishing between a venomous and non-venomous water snake may be better performed only if the snake is dead. If you dare to look the snake in the eye, the water moccasin’s pupil is vertical while the harmless water snake’s pupil is round. Additionally, being a pit viper, the water moccasin has distinctive pits between its eye and nostril on each side of its head. No such pit is found on the water snakes of the Nerodia genus.
Many experts use the term harmless water snake, however this simply means that they do not possess venom. Some people would describe these snakes as straight up mean. These water snakes will hiss and bite even if not provoked. People often encounter water snakes when they fall out of trees into fishermen’s boats or kayaks. Water moccasins don’t tend to climb high enough in the trees overhanging the river to fall into boats. Non-venomous water snakes are known to be more aggressive than water moccasins. When afraid, they hope to resemble a water moccasin and try to bully and hiss, and they are known to readily bite if they can’t get away. Water snakes have also been known to defecate or vomit when they feel threatened, while a water moccasin will expose its menacing fangs and cottony mouth.
The wisest course of action is to avoid handling water snakes. Non-venomous water snakes play an important role in the ecosystem. Why test your ability to distinguish between these two snakes in the heat of the moment? If you are wrong, the results could be deadly.
Are Water Moccasins found in Georgia and Florida?
Water moccasins are found in the eastern part of the United States from southeast Virginia to south Florida. They are found as far west as Texas and north to Oklahoma and Indiana. However, a small niche in the Piedmont area of Georgia, near Atlanta and its suburbs, have somehow eluded being overrun by water moccasins. Water moccasins are found throughout all of Florida and most of Georgia.
In Georgia, water moccasins are found throughout most of the state, but heavily concentrated around Coastal Plain. Very few water moccasins have been found in the Piedmont area west of Atlanta; water moccasins are rarely sighted in the northeast section of the state of Georgia. The University of Georgia water moccasin distribution map shows a sharp V-shaped dip which excludes most of north Georgia as water moccasin territory. However, never put down your guard. Often species territory expands before it is captured in the data. Wherever you may be in Georgia or Florida, always remain aware of your surroundings and vigilant of the environment.
Water Moccasin Bites
Esteemed herpetologist Clifford Pope once said, “Snakes are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.” We have talked about the water moccasins tendency to slip away and simply escape a threat. The water moccasin’s bluff is an exaggerated exhibition of its fangs and the vast interior of its mouth. Finally, the water moccasin is a warrior among snakes. When necessary, the water moccasin’s bite injects a deadly poison into its prey. When a water moccasin bites, it is because it believes it is its last option. Do not ever put the snake in that position.
Human water moccasin bites are actually quite rare. Usually, people are bitten when they accidentally step on the snake as both human and snake are surprised. The cottonmouth is biologically equipped with the ability to send a strong warning signal that most humans heed. If a cottonmouth warns you by exposing his fangs and mouth, for goodness gracious back away. Cottonmouth snakes will usually not pursue you if you back off. Your chances of being bit exponentially increase if you decide to handle the snake or try to kill it.
The venom of a water moccasin is a powerful and deadly toxin, however less than 1% of snake bite deaths in the United States are from the water moccasin. Water moccasin venom is cytotoxic in nature, meaning it destroys cells. Immediately upon the snake’s strike, burning, searing pain will be felt at the site of the bite. The area will turn red and swell. The venom causes the tissue in the area to begin to die and turn black and blue. Sometimes tissue death is so severe that amputation of the affected limb is required. This localized reaction is different from the dangerous systemic reaction incited by the bite of a rattlesnake, however it is excruciatingly painful and serious.
Once bitten, if possible try to take a picture of the snake, for identification purposes, but do not try to capture or kill it. Your top priority now is your own survival. Stay calm and seek medical attention immediately. Do not delay medical treatment if you have been bitten by a water moccasin. Emergency departments in cottonmouth infested areas have an effective antivenom available called CroFab. Once administered, the antivenom binds to the toxins and neutralizes them. The quicker this antivenom is administered, the less damage the water moccasin bite will cause. As they say, time is tissue.
In addition to the puncture wound, searing pain, redness, swelling, and blistering, and discoloration, symptoms of a water moccasin bite may include the following:
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Rapid heart rate, low pulse, low blood pressure
Sweating and increased salivation
Metallic taste in mouth
Numbness or tingling or muscle twitching
Just as important as knowing what to do in the event of a water moccasin bite, you should also know what not to do. The Center for Disease Control has several recommendations that may surprise you.
Do not attempt to capture the snake that has bitten you… even if it is dead.
Do not apply a tourniquet.
Do not slash the wound or try to cut out the dead or dying tissue yourself.
Do not try to suck the venom out with your mouth.
Do not apply ice or extremely cold water to the bite site.
Do not take pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen.
Do not drink alcohol to dull the pain.
How to Get Rid of Water Moccasins
If you live near a body of water that supports water moccasins, the fear is real. As enjoyable as it is to live on the river basking in nature as you drink your morning coffee, this view comes with a risk. You cannot eliminate every water moccasin from the river, but you can maintain your yard in such a manner that they will not feel welcome. Whether you live near a river, a lake, a pond, or a canal, always be vigilant of these snakes. Unfortunately, protecting your family from the risk of this poisonous snake lurking near the river is not as easy as spreading something to repel them or spraying something to kill them. There is not an easy solution for getting rid of water moccasins, you can do several things to make your property safer for your family and your pets. It’s going to look a lot like those yard chores your dad made you do every Saturday morning as a kid.
Water moccasins like to hide in the shelter of rocks, logs, shrubs, and tall grasses. By altering the environment of your yard to eliminate these potential cottonmouth hiding spots, you’ll encourage them to go somewhere else. Eliminate wood piles and other yard clutter. Keep the grass cut and the shrubs trimmed. Remove fallen branches and accumulations of rocks from your yard, giving water moccasins fewer reasons to hang around.
Anything that snakes can crawl beneath and hide under should be considered water moccasin habitat. Sheds, decks, and easily accessible basements are all prime water moccasin hiding places. Snake proof fencing is often impractical around your entire yard, but is sometimes helpful to keep them away from your shed or deck. Snake proof fencing should be a wire mesh that is fine enough to keep out juvenile water moccasins, anchored to the ground and at least 30 inches in height. Proper installation of a snake fence will also keep other animals from burrowing in this area and populating your yard with other critters.
Eliminating harborage spots is truly the most effective way to get rid of cottonmouth snakes. It is not a quick fix and does require continual attention. Reducing a snake’s food supply is another great way to get rid of snakes. Unfortunately, this is harder to do for water moccasins than other snakes that prefer to consume rats and mice. Because water moccasins can easily hunt prey in the water, they can easily survive if land-based prey becomes unavailable. Become familiar with water moccasin’s habits and appearance. Teach your children to be ever vigilant in their surroundings, not fearful, but respectful of nature and the complexities it represents.
Do Snake Repellents Work on Water Moccasins?
Many people spend a small fortune on various snake repellents and spread them throughout their yard on a regular basis. These products involve spreading strong smelling granules in snake infested areas in the hopes that snakes will be uncomfortable and move on to other territory. Some of these products truly smell terrible, consisting of sulfur, ammonia, or mothballs. Some of these products actually smell delicious, consisting of clove, cinnamon, and other fall pumpkin spices.
The question remains as to the efficacy of these snake repellent products on water moccasins. Some people swear by these products and religiously apply them, however most experts believe they are of little use. According to the manufacturers, some of these snake repelling products should be applied after every rain, which in Florida would be every day in the summer! Some manufacturers claim their snake repellent is effective for 2-3 months. Spreading these products throughout your yard on a regular basis can get expensive pretty quickly.
In addition, carefully read the label of any snake repellent product you may be considering before you make your purchase. The label contains the instructions you must follow when applying the product. The label of a popular snake repellent states, “Do not use this product near streams, ponds, pools, or water supplies.” The label also states, “This product is toxic fish. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean water mark.” Since you cannot apply these products near the water where water moccasins live, it is unlikely that repellents are useful for getting rid of water moccasins. In fact, the label on this popular product does say that it is not expected to consistently repel water moccasins.
Trapping Water Moccasins?
Realistically, there is not a functional trap for trapping water moccasins outdoors. Large glue board style traps can be used for snakes in some situations, but generally using these traps outdoors is not recommended. More often than not, you will capture all sorts of critters if you place a glue board outside… but you won’t catch a snake. Many people consider these glue style snake traps inhumane, especially when innocent non-target forest creatures are captured.
Snakes can sometimes be trapped using a simple minnow trap from the bait shop. However, as noted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, these traps are not wholly effective against water moccasins. Minnow traps have small holes, about 1.5” in diameter on each side. They can be placed near the banks of a river or a creek and baited with live lizards, frogs, and even fresh (not store bought washed) eggs. Snakes can enter the hole for the easy meal but they cannot escape. Once captured, the snake can be relocated to a place where they do not threaten your family. However, juvenile water moccasins are ambush predators rather than active foragers, and are therefore rarely captured in one of these traps. Adult water moccasins do actively forage for a meal, but they are often too large to fit through the holes on the minnow traps. Occasionally, a large cotton mouth will force its way inside the trap, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
Water Moccasin In My House
Like any wild animal, it is possible for water moccasins to come indoors, however it is not common. Water moccasins are more likely to be found in or under a shed or even in the garage. After heavy rains, or a natural disaster such as a hurricane, nature can behave in unpredictable ways. When an area is flooded, this will force the semi-aquatic cottonmouth closer to your doorstep. After Hurricane Katrina, the floodwater contained a toxic slurry of fire ants, rats, and the dreaded water moccasin. Under normal circumstances, cottonmouths do not often come indoors, but it is entirely possible. If you believe you have a water moccasin or a cottonmouth snake inside your house, call a professional wildlife control officer. A snake indoors is outside of its comfort zone and therefore feeling a bit testy. With proper equipment and protection, we can remove the snake from your home safely, efficiently, and professionally.
Nextgen Professional Water Moccasin Service
As an all-encompassing pest control company, Nextgen Pest Solutions handles the trapping and removal of all types of wildlife and nuisance animals. From racoons and bats in the attic, to iguanas and snakes in the landscape, our professional wildlife handlers have seen it all. They have the equipment, experience, and knowledge to remove whatever is bothering you. Many snakes in the landscape and even in bodies of water, are harmless and should be permitted to fulfill their role in the environment. However, some species of snakes, like the water moccasin or the cottonmouth, present a danger if they are found close to your family, children, and pets. If you have a venomous snake in your home or on your property, call us today. Do not try to handle a water moccasin on your own; their venom is extremely toxic. When you call Nextgen Pest Solutions, your snake emergency will become our snake emergency.