Captive Care

In writing this article I am in no way advocating the unsafe keeping or illegal keeping of venomous snakes. I’ll assume the reader has experience in keeping these dangerous animals and is well within his or her legal limits to do so.

Escape proof – When I kept venomous snakes I had a secure room within my home. This room was completely escape proof having no windows and the vents were screened off. Even the door were flush with the ground and had a rubber seal as a backup to prevent escapes. Keep in mind I lived
there alone and only put myself at risk. I would never keep venomous snakes in the house again and I would advise anyone else not too as well. I don’t care if you use locking cages inside of an escape proof locked room that’s simply not enough to cover the “what ifs.” I’m come to the conclusion that the only truly responsible way to keep venomous snakes like the cottonmouth water moccasin is to have a dedicated snake building which is fortified and truly escape proof.




Tools – Anyone looking to keep cottonmouth snakes should already have a couple snake hooks and a pair of tongs on hand, but if by chance you don’t, these are absolutely necessary for safe venomous snake keeping. In the past when I used to keep venomous snakes there was never really a time when the tongs or snake hook wasn’t used in the handling if the animals. When cleaning the enclosures I would hook the animal out straight into a large outdoor trash can with a lid until the cleaning was done at which point I’d hook or tong the animal back into the enclosure. Actually having physically contact with the animal never happened which really reduces the chance of an accident occurring.




That being said, cottonmouth snakes do pretty well in captivity, if you happen to have a wild caught animal you’ll notice they are very flighty and unpredictable and almost seem to be stressed out all the time. This may very well be the case, but wild caught do settle down over time if you give them the proper environment to adjust to captivity. If you’re thinking of keeping a cottonmouth snake but have yet to actually acquire the animal there are several breeders here in the United States that are producing healthy high quality captive born and bred cottonmouth snakes. These captive animals do very well in captivity and are a much better choice if you’re in the market for of these awesome snakes.

Proper caging – For venomous snakes you have a few options as far as caging goes, one option is to buy a cage designed specifically for keeping of venomous snakes from a company like Vision cages. These cages come with glass locks and are very secure and adequate for the keeping of

.your new cottonmouth snake. The second option is built a custom cage yourself and if you’re a handy type of person that knows their why around a tool box this may be a cheaper option as lock as it’s secure and has some type of locking feature installed.

Proper Temperatures – Cottonmouths do very well with inside the cage ambient temp of high 70’s low 80’s with the ability to seek a hot spot of 90 degrees during the day.

Water – Although these guys are naturally semi-aquatic animals in the wild in captivity they do just fine being kept with a decent size water dish. The water dish doesn’t even have to be large enough for the animal to submerge in. In fact I’d recommend a smaller water dish that the animal can’t submerge in simply because cottonmouths will defecate in the water and dirty it up almost immediately which becomes a huge pain over time.




Substrate –  Being that these guys live in the cypress swamps it’s only fitting to keep them on cypress mulch. Plus, cypress mulch holds humidity extremely well, it’s very naturalistic and it affords the animal a bit of security as they can bed down in it. Besides that, print-less newspaper would be my second choice.

Feeding – These guys feeding extremely well in captivity and even readily accept frozen thawed rats and mice with ease. They do really well feed an exclusive diet of rats and mice throughout their captive life. If for whatever reason you have a cottonmouth refusing food there’s a good chance that your animal maybe extremely stressed out or has another health issue as these guys don’t typically turn down food.

As long as you’re a responsible keeper and stick to your guidelines keeping this species can be very rewarding as they truly are a wicked creation. If you have any specific questions please submit them on the question and answer page and I’ll do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.

Hybridization




Hybridization in cottonmouth snakes occasionally occurs naturally in the wild. No one really knows for sure why hybridization takes place in the animal kingdom, but there are a few educated guesses that proclaim if closely related species of reptiles like the cottonmouth snake and the copperhead are unable to locate a suitable mate of the same species but are able to locate a suitable mate of a closely related species hybridization can occur. Chances are breeding between the two occurs fairly frequently, but hybrid offspring being produced as a result of these breedings is a fairly rare occurrence.




Cottonmouth snakes have been known to interbreed with copperheads that overlap in there same territory. Also, there have been successful captive breeding projects that resulted these hybrid cottomouth /copperheads crosses being produced. The common name for these hybrid animals is nothing simpler than the “cottonhead.”

Male Cottonhead hybrid ~This image and animal is owned by Bart Borchert~

The animal pictured above is a male cottonhead hybrid owned by Bart Borchert of Sandhill Reptiles he was produced back in 2003 by Mardi Snipes and this animal is part of the original captive breeding program for the cottonmouth / copperhead hybrid also know as the cottonhead. Looking at the image you can easily see characteristics from both the cottonmouth and copperhead. The animal overall looks to have much of the bulk and head shape of the cottonmouth even the long tail appears to be much more cottonmouth like. Looking at the animal from a copperhead point of view and you see some very obvious characteristics of the copperhead lineage. For example the classic orange autumn colors along with the banded pattern, but those bands do look to be expanded a bit which is a little indicative of the cottonmouth. If you happen to stumble upon this animal in the wild chances are even the experienced reptile enthusiast would probably mistake this animal for a full blooded northern copperhead.

 

Seeing that the copperhead blood really seems to dominate the overall appearance of the hybrid cross I would imagine that hybridization may occur more often than expect and simply overlooked because the cross in’t so obvious.

 

A possibly issue with hybrid venomous snakes is how the cross breeding effect the animals venom and how to administer bite treatment for a hybridized animal. With the cottonhead we are pretty fortunate that they both are equipped with hemotoxic venom so bite treatment would still remain along the same lines as receiving a bite by either species without the cross involved.



I’m currently working to acquire a few images of these cottonmouth snake / copperhead snake hybrids as I personally know of two different breeders that are currently working with them in they’re breeding projects. I have seen images myself and most cottonheads appear to resemble copperheads more so than cottonmouths. The cottonhead does appear to be a little stockier and have a more cottonmouth like structured head and tail but the over color looks like a very dark phase copperhead.

Viper Family

Cottonmouth snakes are included in the family of venomous snakes know as vipers or viperidae as it’s referred to in the scientific world. Vipers are found all over the globe except for some extremely cold regions like Antarctica and some very isolated areas of the globe likeHawaii.




All vipers share some common characteristics. One common characteristic for example are the hollowed out hypodermic needle like hinged fangs that they’re equipped with. The fangs in general for vipers are generally pretty large fangs compared to other families of venomous snakes. They are able to comfortably house these large fangs because they’re hinged and not fixed and can lay their fangs down comfortably inside their mouth’s facing towards the rear. When they strike the fangs come alive and swing forward nearly a full 180 degrees which gives vipers the ability to deliver a very deep penetrating bite.

Something that’s very interesting is that studies have shown that vipers have the ability to inject various amounts of venom decided on based on the situation they encounter. Generally speaking larger vipers will have the ability to deliver that much more venom than a smaller species like the copperhead snake or the eyelash viper ofCentral South America. Several factors will determine the amount of venom to deploy from the size of the prey to different types of prey items. Take for example when cottonmouth snakes prey on birds, it’s been studied and confirmed that bites on birds are always very heavy on venom and the thinking behind that is that cottonmouths know that birds if not killed quickly simply fly away and die elsewhere robbing the snake of its well deserved meal.




Breaking the viper family down even further into subfamilies and you’ll see that the cottonmouth snake is part of the crotalinae family also known as the “Pit Viper” family. Now the pit vipers also carry some common characteristics which are the deep pits located between the nose and eye. These pits are infrared sensors which give vipers the ability to see prey at night as well as the ability to determine strike distance and the size of prey items.

Pit Vipers are found in Europe,Indonesia,Taiwanas well as theAmerica’s fromCanadaall the way down toSouth America.




When it comes to reproduction most pit vipers give birth to live offspring with just a few exceptions like the South American bushmaster which is an egg layer. The water moccasin does stick to the general rule and gives birth to a litter of 6-12 live young.

In the past pit vipers were classifieds as their own species but it wasn’t until here recently they were classified as a sub-species in the viper family.

Venom





Cotton Mouth Snake Venom: These guys are equipped with hemotoxic venom. To understand this type of venom that cottonmouth snakes have and how it works, you must first understand a little background on snake venom in general and how it affects the human body. First and foremost, there are two basic categories of snake venom, those being hemotoxic and neurotoxic. These two types of venom have different effects on the human body; here are some of those differences in detail:

  1. Hemotoxic venom radically attacks blood and tissue cells causing traumatic damage to the area which received the bite. In some cases the after effects are so bad the patient may require skin grafts due totissue degeneration and muscle damage.

 

Hemotoxic venom works by preventing the body’s blood supply from coagulating, therefore causing bite victims to experience large amounts of blood loss. That blood loss is expelled through internal bleeding of the body’s organs and bleeding from just about every orifice of the human body. With that, there are often reports of bite victims bleeding from their ears, eyes, nose and even fingernails.




Bites received from snakes with hemotoxic venom can

result in loss of a limb as well as permanent tissue and muscle damage even when proper anti-venom is administered.

 

Furthermore, victims that have been bitten by snakes with hemotoxic venom report the feeling of extreme pain in the area of the bite. I was talking to another reptile enthusiast in Florida once that received a bite from a juvenile cottonmouth and he described the pain as almost unbearable. He received the bite while out boating in on a lake and said, he’d never forget the pain he felt on the way back to the dock to seek medical treatment. He said the wind blowing up against the bite wound was the worst pain he had experienced in his over 40 years on mother earth. Now that’s painful!




Other native snakes with hemotoxic venom are copperheads and pretty much all rattlesnakes (with exception of the Mojave rattlesnake which has neurotoxic venom.)

 

  1. Neurotoxic venom is the other category of snake venom. Neurotoxic venom works by attacking the human body’s central nervous system and brain. When the neurotoxic venom attacks the central nervous system it often causes paralysis. With that, bite victims experience a loss of muscle control in their diaphragm and are unable to expand their lung to breath.

Another effect of neurotoxic venom is necrosis. If you’re wondering what the word “necrosis” means, it basically means the killing of tissue cells which leads to skin and muscle tissue literally rotting around the bite wound. That necrosis often leads to amputation. The effects of this neurotoxic venom often has a lasting effect on the body’s extremities’

 

There are a few native venomous snakes here in the United States with neurotoxic venom like for example the mojave rattlesnake, tiger rattlesnake, southern pacific rattlesnake, canebrake rattlesnake and the coral snake. Throughout the globe, there are many different species of venomous snakes that are equipped with neurotoxic venom and for the most part they’re mainly elapids like cobras, mambas, tiapans etc.

 

Cottonmouth Snake Bite treatment: Anti-venom serum like CroFab®

(Crotalidae Polyvalent Immune Fab) is administered when treating envenomations from cottonmouth snakes. CroFab is a United States company that manufactures anti-venom for the medical industry. Only a doctor can administer any type of anti-serum, this isn’t something Joe Bob the neighbor can administer like in the case of bee stings with the Epipen.

 

CroFab is designed to treat snake bites from most US native pit vipers with exceptions of the mojave rattlesnake and Southern Pacific rattlesnake which may need a multi-blend of different anti-venoms to combat the presences of both heomtoxic and neurotoxic venoms.

 

The good news is roughly half of all bites from venomous snakes turn out to be “dry bites” a dry bite is a basically a bite that doesn’t result in envenomation. You see snakes take their defenses extremely serious and don’t tend to waste venom needlessly, they also rely on that venom for their livelihood needing it to hunting prey items so “dry bites” do have a rhyme and a reason.

 

The bottom line is take all venomous snake bites extremely serious and seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Your life depends on it.

Treating a Snake Bite





The most vital effort after a cottonmouth snake bite is that of surviving the bite. Just like any other snake bite, the bite from these guys can be lethal and most certainly fatal if not treated in good time. However, rapid and proper response can contribute significantly to the survival of the victim. Truth be told there have only been a few cases of cottonmouth snake bites resulting in a death but extreme cation and due regard is a must.





Common Effects of snake Bite

1. The victim’s limbs quickly start swelling as the body resists the effects of the cottonmouth snake venom. The swelling is as a result of body fluids collecting around the bite area which gradually spreads to other body parts. The swollen body parts redden followed by severe itching. To avoid discomfort brought on by swelling, immediately loosen the clothes around the swollen areas.

2.The effects of the bite are similar to the septic shock symptoms. The symptoms include chills, increased heart pulse rate and trembling. The symptoms are due to the natural body response to the snake’s venom, or infection that affects the body tissues and the blood. In case the body immune system is weak, the symptoms become very severe in a short time.

3. Due to the infection and the action of the venom on the body’s muscle tissues, the muscle loses functioning which leads to paralysis of the victim. Fortunately, paralysis resulting from snake bite recede once treatment is given.

First Aid Steps

1. Always strive to keep the victim calm, relaxed, reduce movement and keep the bite area below the heart level; do not make the patient to lay down. Also keep reassuring the victim that the situation will be resolved once administration of CrobFab anti-venom has begun.

2. In cases where you have a pump suction device available follow the instructions and try to extract some of the venom from the wound. Update: Current studies show this to not be effective.

3. Eliminate any constricting item such as rings, watches and buy steroids online tight clothes to allow the swelling of the body. To reduce movement of the snake bite area hold it with a loose splint.

4. If you notice any color change (redness) on the swollen body parts know that the snake was poisonous thus urgent medical attention is paramount to save the victim.

5. Constantly observe, and if possible record the victim’s crucial signs such as change in temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure. If shock is evident, lay the victim flat, but keep the legs raised up-about a feet high making sure the bite area is above the Steroids for sale online level of the heart to slow the flow of the venom in the blood to the heart, then cover the victim with a blanket to reduce the effects of fever, or chills.

6. After first aid has been administered to the victim, call for medical assistance immediately and book the emergency room in advance.

7. If possible take the dead snake with you to the hospital, while taking great care of the head for most snakes can unwittingly bite hours after dying due to reflex (action of muscles as they die). However, if the snake was not killed, or caught do not risk more bites by hunting it down.




Things to Avoid When Treating Snake Bites

i) Never overexert the victim by making him or her or run walk to safety; carry the victim. Running fastens the speed at which the venom reaches the heart.

ii) Never apply a tourniquet on the snake bite wound for it cuts the air circulation to the wound.

iii) Never engage cold compressors such as ice and wet clothes to the wound

iv) Never make any incisions on the wound with any instrument

v) Never mouth-suck the venom from the wound

vi) Never give the victim medication such as painkillers and stimulants without the doctors advice

vii) Never administer anything orally

vii) Never raise the bite location above the heart level.

Once at the hospital, the patient will be treated by administering CroFab antivenom; the reason being that the species of the snake is known to be cottonmouth or water moccasin. The medical staff also uses other treatments to curb the effects of the cottonmouth snake bites such as high blood pressure, paralysis, swelling, pain and chills. The patient will in most cases be admitted at the hospital for a few days to monitor progress.

After Treatment and Recovery

The patient should be let to rest till the wound fully heals. The completion of the given dose is paramount to ensure complete healing and elimination of all the effects of the cottonmouth snake bite. After recovery, the patient should seek counseling especially if the ordeal had a psychological effect causing Ophidiophobia or Ophiophobia or snake phobia.

Author written by Dr. Samuel Dean of the Nassau Herptological Society

Finding Cottonmouth





How to find a cottonmouth snake as well as other snakes

Some of the fondest memories I can recall are memories where I was out hunting for snakes like cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. I do enjoy observing the nonvenomous stuff, but my favorites have always been the venomous snakes. When I was a kid I remember thinking, if I can find one single snake then today will be a huge success. The goal with this article to help you better your chances of finding that one single snake and maybe even several snakes like cottonmouth snakes, copperheads and rattlesnakes.

Where do I look?

If you’re new to snake hunting which is also known as “field herping” by many reptile enthusiasts, you may be wondering where to look in order to observe some really cool reptiles in their native habitat. The best success I’ve ever had field herping has always been on private property with that I’ll suggest you find some private property to begin with. Good place to start is maybe asking a family member that owns property or a close friend that owns some land. Unlike traditional hunting, most property owners don’t mind someone on their land looking for snakes especially, if you’re looking for venomous snakes as cottonmouth water moccasins tend to scare people half to death anyhow. Just be sure and get permission before you venture onto any private property preferably writing permission from the actual owner one be the best case scenario.

Locating the best habitat is usually the most difficult part about field herping. To start off you have to take a step back and think about places that have the least amount of human contact. Unlike nonvenomous snakes cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes tend to inhabit areas that don’t get a lot of contact with people so if you live in the city you’ll have to start thinking about places outside the city more so out in the rural areas to really better your chances of success.




Prepping for the snake hunt

Once you have your ideal location in mind it’s time to start dialing it in even further with some pre hunting prep work. The prep work will consist of finding a few ideal locations to prep with artificial cover or AC for short. Artificial cover is anything you can find to lay out in your ideal location that reptiles can use as cover for example pieces of wood and tin work extremely well for artificial cover.

Here are a couple of tips for using artificial cover:

• Place your AC in an area where it’s not going to be disturbed by anyone. This is critical because if the AC gets disturbed the chances of seeing any snakes or other reptile is pretty much gone.
• Great place to put AC are in places where fields transition into a heavily wooded area, right on the border of grasslands and woodlands are some of the best place to lay AC.
• Lay the AC in multiple layers with pieces overlapping other pieces as this will afford some great hiding spots for a variety of rodents and reptiles including snakes.
• If you’re targeting cottonmouth snakes specifically place your AC in the general area of some standing water source. I’ve heard of hepers having great success finding cottonmouth snakes laying AC right on the edge of some old well established water sources. Just be sure not to lay the pieces so close that they could possibly get submerged if a heavy rainfall hits.
• Artificial cover works best when it’s left completely untouched. The longer it’s left alone the higher your chances of success are at finding some really cool reptiles underneath. Most experienced field herpers have several locations spread out in several different areas and they typically only check each area once a year as this allows the AC to really settle in to the surrounding habitat.

Here’s a video of some snakes under artificial cover.




Final thoughts

There are a couple things you need to be mindful of before you ever step foot out of the door, like checking your local laws. Some states have strict laws on the books regarding collecting wild reptiles, so check with the local authorities before you do any field collecting. Also, be sure to not to bring any snake hunting tools ie hooks or tongs onto any state or federal parks because they are strict when it comes to enforcement, even if you’re not collecting just disturbing the animals by photographing them could land you in with a steep fine or possibly even in jail. Besides that always be mindful of safety, wear think knee high boots and never flip any rocks or AC by hand also use some other means like a snake hook, rack etc.

Hopefully, you’ve found these few tips to be of some use. Good luck and happy hunting.

Cottonmouth Snake Facts

Ok I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding cottonmouth snakes aka water moccasin snakes that are just way off track. There is a ton of misinformation out there, a lot of the old wives tales seem to be still alive and thriving. I’m going to take a couple moments to touch on some cottonmouth snake facts and dispel some myths along the way. If you have any specific cottonmouth snake facts that you’d like me to address please feel free to submit a question on the Q & A page.




There are no chemicals or sprays that can reliably repel venomous snakes or any other snakes for that matter. Yes, there are some chemicals or sprays that will kill a snake if sprayed directly but there really isn’t any snake repellant that you can simply spray around your house that will prevent a snake from entering.
Cottonmouth snake fact number two is that these snakes along with other snakes will travel long distances during the spring month in search of possible mates. They are often observed well away from standing water this time of year. This however short lived as water moccasin snakes will work their way back to the comfort of the swamp as soon as mating takes place.

Water moccasins will not bite a person and hold on until lightening strikes. This may sound foolish, but I’ve received three emails recently asking me this very question.
After the recent news story was published where the homeless man cut the head of the cottonmouth water moccasin and stuck his finger in it’s mouth and received an envenomation as a result. I think it’s only fitting to revisit a little common sense fact. If for whatever reason you cut the head off a venomous snake be warned that yes the fangs still contain venom and it’s possible to get envenomated by sticking your finger into the dead snakes mouth.
Another cottonmouth snake fact is that these snakes really are the only semi aquatic viper in the world.
These guys are one of the few snakes out there that are truly opportunistic feeders. With that, these guys have a diet that’s is extremely diversified, they’ll eat just about anything. Seriously, they have a diet that ranges from rodents to fish to reptiles.



In conclusion you can’t use chemicals to repel snakes. Cottonmouths travel long distances away from water during mating season. Never stick your fingers in the mouth of a venomous snake whether or not that animal is alive or dead. Of course, no animal is going to bite and hold that bite until lightening strikes. Cottonmouth water moccasins are garbage disposals and will pretty much eat anything they can catch and over power.