Agkistrodon piscivorus - Water moccasin, Cottonmouth
Habitat Common in freshwater such as ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, streams, and creeks in shallow waters. Found in brackish water habitats along Atlantic and Gulf coast barrier islands.
Range Eastern US as far north as Southeast Virginia and as South as Southern Florida. They can span westward to Texas and are found in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Description A venomous large snake ranging from 30-75 in, keeled-scaled, with varying coloration of dark cross bands on a brown or yellow ground color. Can be completely brown or black with age while juveniles are patterned with a sulfur yellow tail tip. the belly commonly has dark and brown yellow patches with the tail underside being black. Additionally they have facial pits which detect heat and are used to detect prey and predators.
Ecological Notes Semi aquatic snakes with a varied diet of aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates such as fish, snakes, turtles, birds, small mammals, and amphibians. Foraging involves waiting to ambush prey in bushes, grasses, and rocky areas. Females have live births with 5-11 young in the later parts of summer. Some mothers remain with young and provide minimal parental care. Species will stand their ground when approached showing pale or cottony white interior of mouth in a threat display.
Personal Information Species can be commonly found on shores of Pamlico Sound near barrier island towns such as Rodanthe, Salvo, and Avon.
Guiher, T., & Burbrink, F. (2008). Demographic and phylogeographic histories of two venomous North American snakes of the genus Agkistrodon. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 48(2), 543-553. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.04.008
This article discusses the photooxidation of six venoms of domestic and foreign snakes including Agkistrodon piscivorus. Photooxidation resulted in the detoxification of all venoms and rabbits were immunized with two of the detoxified venoms producing antibodies which protected mice against the action of unaltered venom.
Hoss, S., Garcia, M., & Earley, R. (2014). Fine-scale hormonal patterns associated with birth and maternal care in the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), a North American pitviper snake. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 208(1), 85-93. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2014.08.011
Viviparous female pitvipers remain at the birth site with their young for one to two weeks until neonates complete their first shed cycle, this study hypothesizes that CORT has a role in signaling mothers to terminate care and disperse once this first shedding occurs.
Kocholaty, W., & Ashley, B. (1966). Detoxification of Russell's viper (Vipera russellii) and water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) venoms by photooxidation. Toxicon, 3(3), 187-194. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(66)90020-1
This study focuses on the effects of glacial cycles on lineage diversification and historical demography in closely related species with overlapping ranges. The article compared phylogeographic structure, historical demography, and approximate lineage age in two closely related and broadly co-occurring venomous snakes in eastern North America, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and copperhead (A. contortrix) using sequences from the mtDNA gene cytochrome b.
Contributed by Julie Vasu - 2016