The name of cottonmouth is enough to pour concentrated fear into your veins, and for good reasons.
These snakes rank fourth on the list of the most venomous snakes on US soil, alongside coral snakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and timber rattlesnakes.
This white-mouth pit viper is a real danger to humans, as they rack a stable death toll due to their potent bite and overall aggressiveness. But where does this slithery monster lives, and how can you avoid it?
Let’s discuss it!
Overview and Identification of Cottonmouth Snakes
Cottonmouths grow up to 30-40 inches in the wild, so they’re not really big. But it doesn’t matter anyway because they make up for it via their deadly bites. Cottonmouths are widely spread throughout Southeastern US, especially Texas, and can be found in a variety of habitats.
They prefer aquatic environments, though, which should be fairly obvious by one of its alternate names: the water moccasin. Rivers, swamps, lakes, and other bodies of water are the most likely habitats in this sense.
Despite its relatively short size, the cottonmouth is a very heavy-bodied reptile. The snake comes with a very thick body, a short tail, and a powerful head. Most specimens are earthy brown in coloring, typically with no visible patterns.
Disclaimer: This coloring and pattern are only specific to the Southeastern species because there are at least one other species you can find in other US regions, the Northern part specifically.
This is the Northern cottonmouth and usually appears yellow with black randomized patterns and a completely black tail.
If you can’t tell the snake’s species by assessing its appearance and body shape, check the interior of the mouth. Don’t worry, you don’t need to provoke or touch the snake to get there.
Cottonmouths are notoriously aggressive, so they will open their mouths menacingly without you even asking for it. The interior of the mouth is cotton-white, which is where the snake gets its name.
Fun fact, you should be able to see the fangs situated on the upper jaw, ready to inject the deadly venom. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Where are Cottonmouth Snakes Found in Texas?
If you’re planning to go to Texas but would like to avoid cottonmouths as much as possible (or, on the contrary, you want to meet them in person), you must learn the snake’s main dwelling regions.
In this sense, you have 2 points to consider:
1. Geographical Distribution
Cottonmouths can be found throughout Texas, usually far from human settlements, anywhere where there’s a body of water. However, you should find most of them in the Southeastern region, along the local coastal prairies, swamps, and marshes.
These regions are poor in human activity, giving cottonmouths the space they need to live in peace.
Needless to say, you don’t necessarily need to go to Texas to find a specimen. Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida are just as good destinations with their fair share of venomous snakes, cottonmouths included.
2. Seasonal Variations
Cottonmouths are not year-long snakes because they tend to become dormant during the cold season. So, if you want to meet them in the wild, you want to consider the warmer summer months as the best time to visit Texas.
This is when cottonmouths are most active, at which point you can find them near any water body with sufficient meal opportunities.
As the weather cools off, cottonmouths tend to migrate in the vegetation-rich nearby region, preferably uphill. They will look for a safe and secluded area to enter their dormant state to preserve energy and nutrients.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t disqualify cottonmouths as genuine threats. These snakes can hibernate, but hibernation is very different in reptiles than it is in other animals.
In short, reptiles don’t undergo genuine hibernation but a similar state called torpor. In this state, the snake lowers its metabolism to the point where digestion stops, and the reptile enters a conservation state where it requires minimal nutrients.
The body will resort to autophagy, consuming its fat reserves throughout the cold season. The issue is that the snakes are not completely out during the process.
So, it’s not uncommon for hibernating cottonmouths to sense your presence and bite at times.
How to Avoid Cottonmouth Snakes in Texas
If your ultimate goal is to avoid cottonmouth snakes when in the wild, congratulations, you’re a normal person.
Here’s what to do to achieve just that:
Understanding the Cottonmouth Snakes’ Behavior
This is the first point on the order of the day. You cannot avoid cottonmouths, or any other animal for that matter if you don’t have a good grasp of its behavior in the wild.
Here are some points to consider:
- The snake’s preferred habitat – Cottonmouths are water snakes, so staying away from any body of water will decrease the likelihood that you’ll meet one dramatically.
- The snake’s behavior – Cottonmouth snakes are extremely aggressive. These reptiles prefer to stay and intimidate or fight instead of leaving the area. So, if you see a cottonmouth staring at you, turn the other way. There’s no win scenario for you.
- Excellent swimmers – If you do encounter a cottonmouth snake on land, which they often visit for basking purposes, don’t panic and jump in the water in an attempt to escape. On the one hand, the cottonmouth moves faster in water than on land, and it might pursue. On the other hand, if one cottonmouth lives in that area, others do too. So, jumping in the water may only serve as a great opportunity to meet other cottonmouths. And they will not be as delighted to meet you.
Needless to say, cottonmouths are not to be trifled with. Keep your distance, avoid their natural habitat, and be on your way.
Taking Precautions in their Habitats
If you’ve decided to go on a journey into the wilderness, get a map, learn the regions where you’re the most likely to meet cottonmouths, and draw your trails around them. This will significantly reduce the risks of encountering the snake, to begin with.
If that’s not an option, consider the following tips:
- Learn the on-site layout – If you simply cannot avoid the snake’s natural habitat, at least learn the region’s layout. Cottonmouths tend to spend most of their time either in the water or in the immediate vicinity. Preferably the areas around the water that are packed with tall and heavy vegetation. These provide the snake with protection against predators and allow it to strike its prey unseen.
- Have protective gear with you – Long, anti-snake pants and heavy leather boots are a necessity when traversing snake-infested habitats. Especially when dealing with a creature as dangerous and aggressive as the cottonmouth. I recommend snake-proof gaiters as an extra protective layer.
- Keep your eyes with you – You’re not home anymore. You’re now traversing dangerous lands filled with deadly snakes that could end your life faster than it came about. Always keep an eye out for any dangers ahead and around you. Especially when traversing areas with rich vegetation and nearby water sources.
- Do not play brave – It doesn’t matter whether you are afraid of snakes or not. Don’t attempt to provoke or capture any snake you encounter in the wild, especially on cottonmouth territory. Even if you think you’ve identified the snake as not a cottonmouth. Sometimes, looks can be deceiving, and you might actually be dealing with a less common morph of cottonmouth. Always play your cards safe.
- Inform people of your whereabouts – Make sure you have informed someone of your trail and the estimated time it takes for you to complete it. This way, you know someone knows where you are and when you’re supposed to reach your destination. So, in case something bad happens, you have your back covered.
These preventions should be at the top of your priority list. It’s always better to prevent any cottonmouth-related incidents than to deal with them after the fact. Speaking of which:
Dealing with Cottonmouth Snake Bites
If your prevention tactics have failed, you now move on to the next phase: dealing with the problem.
If you’ve been bitten by a cottonmouth, consider the following:
- Remove yourself from the area – If the snake bit you, leave the area to prevent further attacks. Cottonmouths are notorious for their aggressive demeanor, so it’s not uncommon for them to bite several times during one attack.
- Call 911 – Calling 911 should be your top priority after you’ve left the area successfully. You require urgent medical assistance in case of a cottonmouth bite, so the sooner the help arrives, the better.
- Free the area near the bite – Cut the pants or the blouse, depending on where you’ve been bitten. The area should be free to allow for smooth blood circulation. It sounds counterintuitive, as most people would think that applying a tourniquet is the better option. It’s actually not because the tourniquet cuts off the blood flow to the affected limb, which can exacerbate the venom’s activity and damage the surrounding tissue even more.
- Position the limb properly – If you’ve been bitten by an arm or leg, position the limb so that the bite is lower than the rest of the arm or leg. This slows down the blood flow to the area, slowing the venom’s activity and movement through the circulatory system.
- Keep calm – Do not panic, do not run, and do not move around much after being bitten. All of these activities will increase your blood flow, allowing the venom to spread faster through your body. Which is the direct opposite of what you want.
At this point, all you can do is wait for help to arrive.
Cottonmouth snakes are no joke. These small snakes are very aggressive, deadly venomous, and clearly live up to their reputation.
There’s a reason why they’re so feared by those who know them.
Do your research, understand the snake’s habitat and behavior, and take the necessary precautions when traversing its territory.