Venomous Snakes of
Florida

and Snakebite Treatment
By Greg (Snakeman) Longhurst
Photos By Bill Love

Florida Cottonmouth
Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti



Banded Watersnake on left, Cottonmouth on right.

Photo by Kyle Smith

    The Florida Cottonmouth is a close relative of the copperhead, this snake is also known as the water moccasin.  When first born, the babies look nothing like the parents.  They have a wavy banded pattern in bright orange and brown, with a sulphur-yellow tail tip.  As they grow, the pattern often fades away and the animal darkens, finally being anywhere from dark brown through olive green to even jet-black.   In a few instances, the juvenile color and pattern remain throughout the snake's life.  One thing the babies and adults have in common is a "bandit's mask," a dark line which runs through the eye, bordered above and below by white.
     The cottonmouth is found in every county in the state, seldom far from, but not necessarily in, water.  Looking, however, at the topography of Florida, with its many lakes and network of canals, they may be found in most parts of the state.   There are several non-venomous water snakes that can easily be mistaken for the cottonmouth.  In the water, the cottonmouth floats very high, with most of its body visible above the water line.  The non-venomous water snakes are less bouyant, swimming with little more than the head and neck exposed.   Behavior is a good key to distinguishing the water snakes from the cottonmouths.   When a cotttonmouth feels threatened, it will most often cock its head up to a 45 angle.   It will also vibrate the tail, which is not done by the water snakes.    Upon further provocation, they will often assume a tight coil and throw the mouth open wide, showing you whence the name cottonmouth, as the inside of the mouth is nearly snow-white.
     The cottonmouth will eat virtually any kind of animal matter. juvie cottonmouth  Their diet includes baby alligators, small turtles, fish, amphibians, birds, eggs, rodents and snakes.  They help keep our waterways clean, as they are as much scavengers as they are predators.If a cottonmouth which has been sunning itself on a tree limb overhanging the water drops into your boat, don't reach under the seat for the shotgun; you'll sink the boat!  What you should do is very quickly, using a paddle or fishing rod, gently lift the snake out of the boat.  Quickly, because before you drift too far from shore, you may want to consider the option of just giving him the boat!   
     This snake has been known to exceed 6 feet by a couple of inches, although it averages around 30 inches.  While it has been known to kill people, with prompt, proper medical treatment, the bite will not prove fatal.  One of the two bites I have experienced was from a cottonmouth, and while there was much pain and a week's worth of missed work, my life was never really in danger.