Water moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus), also known as cottonmouth snakes, live in the United States in areas from Virginia to Kansas. They're venomous reptiles who go after a wide assortment of prey, including but not limited to fish, tiny mammals, frogs, turtles and fellow snakes. As semiaquatic creatures, water moccasins are prevalent in damp environments such as marshes, swamps and lakes.
Water moccasins have rather intimidating public images. Many people think of them as being ferocious animals. While they can definitely exhibit aggressive behavior, they usually don't bite unless they feel directly bothered. If an individual walks right over a water moccasin's body, he might be in for an unpleasant bite, for example. For the most part, however, water moccasins aren't usually truculent in behavior. They also are stealthy in nature and generally attempt to keep out of peoples' ways. When they bite, it's often because they feel like they have no other option.
While bites from water moccasins aren't overly common, they can be extremely dangerous when they occur, sometimes even killing victims. Water moccasins are pit vipers, just as rattlesnakes are. This means that their venom is hemotoxic and can lead to havoc of the red blood cells and tissues. Their poison can prevent blood from clotting, and this can bring upon hemorrhages.
Symptoms of Bites
When a water moccasin bites someone, the victim usually notices instant pain. The bite differs from the bite of a coral snake. Coral snake bites often start out without pain. Apart from pain, victims of water moccasin bites also often immediately experience symptoms such as bleeding, feebleness, trouble breathing normally, swelling, exhaustion, numbness, throwing up, nausea, reduced blood pressure, skin discoloration and increased thirst. Seek urgent medical care if any snake bites you or anyone near you. If a water moccasin bites one of your pets, get veterinary attention.
Precursors of Biting
When water moccasins feel apprehensive and defensive, they often make it visible through their body language. When they're frightened, they usually show their enemies the interior portions of their mouths, which are white and cottony. This also shows off their fangs. Scared water moccasins also intimidate by thrashing their tails from side to side. As many other snakes do, they also sometimes give off unpleasant and strong protective smells. All of these are indications of an upcoming strike. Water moccasins can bite in the water and out of it. Always stay as far away as possible from water moccasins -- and from any other snakes you see out in nature.
- MedlinePlus: Snake Bites
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Agkistrodon Piscivorus
- Savannah River Ecology Laboratory: Cottonmouth / Water Moccasin
- United States Geological Survey: Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon Piscivorus) FactSheet
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Agkistrodon Piscivorus
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Cottonmouth
- The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: Snake Bites
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Dealing With Snakes in Florida's Residential Areas
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images