Fayette County Extension

SHOULD A COTTONMOUTH (WATER MOCCASIN) BE DISMISSED AS AGGRESSIVE?

Cottonmouth Information, Matt Moore, Department of Natural Resources:

Judging by comments at public education programs I’ve done, cottonmouths are the most misunderstood and maligned of Georgia’s six native species of venomous snakes.

I have worked in close proximity with many cottonmouths (aka water moccasins) over the years and I encounter dozens each year in the south Georgia swamps where I conduct wetland field work. Yet I’ve never had a cottonmouth chase me – a prominent myth concerning this species – or try to bite me.

Earlier this month while wading in a narrow, shallow stream in a south Georgia swamp, I met a large eastern cottonmouth – approximately 4 feet long – swimming upstream.  The snake had a natural curiosity as it tries to figure out what this large obstruction in its path is.   After deciding that I’m an animate object and thus a potential predator, the snake decides to avoid the threat by swimming around me.  Later, I had to walk back past the snake to get to my car (walking in water where you can see your feet was safer here because the forest is thick with knee-high vegetation).   The cottonmouth is in a defensive coil.   But though alarmed, it still only cowers against the stream bank as I carefully pass by.

I do believe people have had snakes, some of which may have been cottonmouths, come toward them in the wild.   It’s been my experience this invariably happens when the snake is either not aware of my presence until it is very near or it’s fleeing toward refuge, such as a hole in the ground or body of water, and I happen to be between the snake and the refuge.

If you encounter a snake, DNR’s recommendation is that you try to identify it only from a distance and give the snake the space it needs.

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