Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

I’ve always been a big fan of the Kill Bill movies. Despite the gory violence (or perhaps in part because of it), they have a certain charm which I’m quite fond of. Also, the five members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad are all named after snakes, so it makes a  pretty good source to draw blog posts from. So far I’ve only written about the black mamba, so that means I still have four more snakes to blog about.

O-Ren Ishii (played by Lucy Liu) was given the moniker cottonmouth, and that’s the snake we’re going to focus on today. Cottonmouths are found in the southeastern US, from Florida in the south to Texas in the west, and Illinois in the north. These snakes are the most aquatic of the viper family, and so are usually found in and around water, especially shallow lakes and slow moving streams.

Cottonmouths can get to be pretty large, growing to lengths of almost two meters. They are usually dark brown or black, with black crossbands that are difficult to see on adults. Young snakes are lighter in colour, and also possess a bright yellow or green tail tip, which they can use as a lure to catch prey. Cottonmouths are named for the insides of their mouths, which are white. They open their mouths when threatened, so if you are able to see a cottonmouth’s cotton mouth, you should probably run away.

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Cottonmouths darken as they age, to the point where you can barely see their markings. Image credit: Fjguyote via Wikipedia

Though cottonmouths have a reputation for being very aggressive snakes, they generally only bite as a last resort. They will try to escape, and if that’s not possible, will begin a threat display. This, of course, involves opening their mouths to show off their white insides, but also involves vibrating the tail and hissing. They can also squirt foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands. If further pressed, the cottonmouth will strike, which is not fun for the victim.

Cottonmouths are venomous snakes, and their bites can cause painful bruises and swelling. Bites usually don’t result in deaths of humans, but they cause tissue destruction and can result in amputation, so try and stay away from cottonmouths! There is an antivenin available, so if you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately.

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A nice picture of the inside of a cottonmouth’s mouth. Image credit: Geoff Gallice via Wikipedia

Breeding in cottonmouths can occur at any time of year, though they most frequently mate in the spring. Males compete for females, either by fighting with one another or by trying to get a female alone. A male accomplishes this by slithering from side to side while waving his tail around, captivating her to follow him. Females give birth to up to sixteen young (with five to nine being the most common), after a gestation period of five months. Cottonmouth snakes are capable of reproducing asexually, through parthenogenesis, but sexual reproduction is much more common.

Cottonmouths are doing quite well in their range, and are not currently threatened. Let’s hope these cool snakes continue to do well, because snakes are awesome!

Cover image credit: Ltshears via Wikipedia

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