The Cottonmouth can typically be found in southeastern United States. They got their name "Cottonmouth" from the white lining coloration inside of their mouths. They are normally not an aggressive snake and will not attack unless disturbed or agitated. They are most active at night, although they do bask in the sun during the day. These snakes will not back down when in a defensive mode and will "stand their ground." It coils its body and threatens the intruder with its mouth wide open, exposing its fangs. These snakes can cause severe damage and are sometimes fatal when they bite.
It is classified as a pit viper. This snake has a pair of heat-sensing pits between its eyes and nostrils. The pit consists of two cavities, an inner and outer one that is separated by a membrane. They can detect temperatures with these sensors, which allow the snakes to strike with great accuracy at the source of heat. The venom of the cottonmouth is produced by glands that are located near the point where the upper and lower jaws meet. Upon the snake's strike and insertion of its fangs in the prey, the muscles surrounding the poison sacs contract and squeeze the venom along ducts that lead to the base of the fangs. The venom travels through the hollow fangs and out a small opening at the tip of the fangs into the prey. The venom of the Cottonmouth is hemotoxic. This means that the venom breaks down and destroys blood cells and other tissues and lowers the ability to coagulate or clot resulting in hemorrhaging throughout any portion of the circulatory system that has been penetrated by the venom.
They can range in length anywhere from 30 to 48 inches and have been known to reach lengths up to 74 inches. Their snouts are always pale, and there almost always is a dark vertical line by each nostril. Their back is dark olive or black, with a paler colored belly. On juveniles, the backs are marked by bands with a dark outline and paler centers. These markings are striking in appearance and typically fade away once they reach adult size.
The Cottonmouth's diet consists of both cold and warm-blooded prey, (birds & small mammals, water snakes, other snakes, small turtles, frogs, fish, salamander, baby alligators, lizards.
These snakes are survivors right from birth. Newborns have a unique predatory technique. They flick their vibrant colored tail tips making small prey think it is a worm. This action attracts small frogs or minnows to come within striking range.
Breeding takes place during the spring. The gestation period is typically 3 to 4 months. The female can produce up to 12 living young. The eggs hatch within the parent or immediately after she lays her eggs. Each young is brightly patterned with a yellow tail and is typically 8 to 10 inches long and 3/4 of an inch in diameter which is quite large for newborn snakes. The female ovulates in alternate years.
Cottonmouths can be found near water and fields. Being semi-aquatic they are effective on or off land. They are commonly found in streams, swamps, marshes, edges of lakes, ponds and drainage ditches in the southern lowlands of the United States.