Cottonmouth snake will defend self if provoked by humans

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The cottonmouth snake is a pit viper and can deliver a deadly bite if provoked. It is a native North American snake. Its name is derived from the fact that before striking it will often open its mouth wide showing the cottonlike whiteness of its inner mouth.

The cottonmouth snake is sometimes called a water moccasin, but the term water moccasin is applied generally to many water snakes. The cottonmouth is the only water snake in Missouri that displays a white inner mouth.

The venom of the cottonmouth is a toxin that prevents its victim's blood from clotting. When hunting prey on land it will strike its prey delivering venom, immediately release its prey and then follow the scent trail to the dead or dying animal. The cottonmouth will also hunt fish underwater.

The cottonmouth snake is not aggressive toward humans but will defend itself if attacked. Almost all bites from this snake upon humans come after a human has made an unsuccessful attempt to kill the cottonmouth. The cottonmouth would rather save its venom for use in attaining food it can swallow. If you should come upon a cottonmouth, simply take another route away from the snake and leave it alone. It has its place in nature.

The pupils of this snake are not round. They appear as a vertical slit at the center of each eye. This pit viper is a bulky snake that may reach more than 4 feet in length. It has a triangular head. A female cottonmouth will give live birth to possibly 10 young, which are left at birth to fend for themselves.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.

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