Dept. of Wild: Up Close Cottonmouth

The cottonmouth is the most notorious venomous snake in Texas. With a reputation as big as the state itself, there are many myths and legends surrounding this species.

TFG Editor-In-Cheif Chester Moore is a big fan of the species. He recently had an opportunity to shoot photos and video a large specimen that showed not everything commonly said about the species is true.

“Well, first of all, not all cottonmouths are super aggressive. This specimen is a bit intense but I have stepped on them before and not had them strike. It depends on the individual you come across,” Moore said.

“There is also the issue of striking distance. Many books say half the length of their body. This one definitely strikes further than that and we capture it on video. The point of this video is to tell people to use caution around all venomous snakes and also to recognize if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. This snake didn’t hunt me down. It only got aggressive because I was up close photographing it.”


Moore contacted word renown snake expert Austin Stevens to ask his opinion on cottonmouths.

“The cottonmouth, or water moccasin as it is also known is indeed reputed to be a bad-tempered snake when approached. Generally speaking I have found this to be true, though one must also take into account that though a species may have earned a particular reputation, individual snakes may differ within a species,” Stevens said.

“In Florida, in one morning, I came across two specimens within 50 feet of each other. The first immediately deployed the typical defense strategy, with head pulled back into its body coils, mouth wide open with tongue flickering in and out while its tail vibrated noisily amongst leaf litter, producing a sound almost like a rattler. Moving closer with my camera, the snake immediately responded with numerous short, quick strikes in my direction.”

Stevens said not 20 minutes later and just a little further along, he came across a smaller specimen of the same species, basking on a log.

“This cottonmouth showed little interest in my approach and only moved when I attempted to pick it up with my snake tongs, which I eventually did with little complaint on the part of the snake. Two completely different displays of attitude, but generally speaking, cottonmouths are quick to show their displeasure when approached.”

Stevens said although venomous snakes can be dangerous, they have a very important role in our environment.

“Though snakes of different species feed on a variety of prey, most take rodents, those elusive, very numerous, and destructive little creatures that plague farms and destroy crops.”

“Each individual snake is responsible for the death of hundreds of rodents each year and is nature’s best defense against their reaching plague proportions. If concerned about the presence of snakes in an area, it would be better to take precautions rather than kill snakes indiscriminately. Unless cornered and/or forced to defend themselves, snakes will certainly avoid confrontation with humans.”



TFG Editorial: