Which name is correct, water moccasin snake or cottonmouth? Well, the name “water moccasin snake” is more or less a generic term used by rural
folks referring to any dark colored snake near the water. The name “Cottonmouth” is the correct name accepted by herpetology. For the sake of the rural folks.
Habitat: One thing common among most venomous snakes is that they don’t enjoy the presence of people. With that, most venomous snakes tend to seek out places that have the least amount of human contact as possible.
Well, this snake is no different, their optimal habitat consists of marsh wet lands and other calm slow moving streams, cypress swamps, ponds and lakes. For the most part they stick to natural fixed bodies of water with thick vegetation that provides an abundant source of food.
When I was a young man living in Fort Myers, Florida I observed a group of water moccasin snakes gathered around a small pond that was all but dried up, preying on the tad poles and small fish trapped inside. Although, they will venture from water on occasion, when they do, they still seem to prefer the low land type habitat that retains a lot of moisture, opposed to the drier open grasslands or plains. In the northern regions of their native range water moccasin snakes do hibernate, but they have been observed all months of the calendar year on occasional warm days outside the den site sunning on the hillside or waters edge.
Personality: I once heard an old herpetologist by the name of Doug Jones say, “Cottonmouths live in a harsh environment from which they developed a
rather harsh personality.” Looking at places where they are commonly found, you can’t help but see some truth in that statement as they do tend to live in rather harsh areas of swamp land and backwoods.
Water moccasin snakes clearly carry a different demeanor than other flighty non-venomous water snakes that quickly flee when approached or stumbled upon, whereas, the water moccasin snake usually stand its ground. Large males also appear to be territorial in some instances advancing on would be threats and even approaching occupied boats at times. Are water moccasins really territorial or are they a little more curious than other species is the real question? I tend to think it’s probably a little combination of both, all fueled by self confidence.
I’ve read several articles about the species where authors report that water moccasin’s don’t regularly climb low lying branches on the water’s edge and bask like other non-venomous waters snakes do, but that is entirely false. I’ve personally seen several animals more than a couple feet off the ground basking in the sun in the same manor that common water snakes tend to do.
I will say that they clearly swim differently than other water snakes, being that they are very buoyant so the majority of their body does in fact tend to stay on the surface of the water. While other water snakes swim much more submerged and concealed with only the head above the water’s surface.
Diet: Water moccasin snakes utilize a few different hunting methods being opportunistic and ambush hunters as well as scavengers if need be. Their prey items range from small turtles, frogs, birds, mammals, fish, raccoons, opossums and even snakes to include other water moccasins! This is one of the reasons why I’ve always liked these snakes so much, they’re a wicked nasty pit viper that carries a dominant attitude which says, “If I can catch it and kill it, then it’s a worthy food source.” That’s one of the reasons they’ve been coined the “Bad boys of the South” among reptile keepers and enthusiast.