Many individuals mistakenly assume that every swimming or water snake they encounter is a water moccasin. However, this is far from accurate. The truth is that most snakes have the ability to swim, even those that might not seem inclined to do so, such as the diamond head rattlesnake.

In the regions where water moccasins thrive, namely the southeastern United States and certain areas along the southern Atlantic coast, there exists a wide variety of water-dwelling snake species that inhabit the numerous marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes, and streams.

Furthermore, the majority of bites from these non-water-moccasin snakes are harmless, unlike those inflicted by water moccasins. It is essential to note that while water moccasins possess venom that can be highly detrimental, they are not inherently aggressive towards all moving creatures.

In reality, their primary objective is to avoid human interaction, and they will only strike if accidentally stepped upon or genuinely threatened. To accurately identify a water moccasin, apart from its physical appearance, one must be familiar with its geographical distribution, habits, life cycle, diet, and distinctive characteristics.

To help you identify a water moccasin if you come across one, we’ll briefly discuss some of the above symptoms.

What’s the difference between a water moccasin and a cottonmouth?

Water moccasin snakes, also known as cottonmouths, are semi-aquatic reptiles. This indicates that they primarily inhabit aquatic environments, although they can also survive on land. Their habitat of choice is often in or near water, and they are predominantly found in the southeastern United States.

Please note that the term “water moccasin” is commonly used to refer to cottonmouth snakes.

What are the features of a water moccasin?

Water moccasins, commonly referred to as cottonmouths, are venomous snakes that inhabit aquatic environments. They are known for their semi-aquatic nature.

They possess distinct characteristics such as large, triangular heads, a dark line running through the eye, elliptical pupils, and pronounced jowls caused by their venom glands.

What Does a Water Moccasin Look Like?

Now, let’s address the pressing question: What does a water moccasin look like, and how can you distinguish it from other water snakes?

While there may be occasional exceptions due to environmental changes or hybridization, all three varieties of water moccasins share several common features.

Juvenile Water Moccasin

Juvenile water moccasins, which can be equally as dangerous as adults, exhibit distinct characteristics different from those of adult specimens. Here are some key identifiers for a juvenile water moccasin:

  • Length: Young water moccasins typically measure between 6 and 10 inches in length.
  • Colouring: Juvenile water moccasins display vibrant colours, featuring red bands that extend across their backs and down their sides without crossing the belly. These markings contrast against a primarily brown body, often accompanied by dark flecks or spots.

Adult Water Moccasin

Adult water moccasins can have a noticeably different appearance compared to juveniles. Here’s a brief overview of the identifying features of an adult water moccasin:

Length: Adult water moccasins vary widely in size, with an average length ranging between 8 and 48 inches. The longest recorded water moccasin measured 74.5 inches.

Colouring: As water moccasins age, the vibrant bands on their bodies tend to fade, almost becoming imperceptible. Most adult water moccasins exhibit an all-brown or black exterior.

Girth: Water moccasins possess a thick and heavy body, tapering significantly at the neck and gradually becoming slimmer towards the tail.

Scales: The body of a water moccasin is covered in “keeled” scales, which feature raised ridges running lengthwise along the centre. This gives them a dull and non-reflective appearance, unlike the shiny scales of other water snakes.

Head: The head of a water moccasin is notably larger than the neck, serving as a prominent distinguishing characteristic. Some water moccasins may have a horizontal stripe across their eyes, while others lack this feature. When viewed from above, their eyes are not visible due to large plate-like scales covering the top of the head. Water moccasins also possess a deep facial pit used to sense the body heat of their prey. The head appears wedge-like, flat, and almost triangular, a common trait among venomous snakes. The widest part of the head is adjacent to the mouth, where the snake inflicts its venomous bite.

Water moccasins actively hunt their prey while swimming underwater. However, when not hunting, they either lie flat on the water’s surface or remain near the water’s edge, awaiting unsuspecting prey. In contrast, non-venomous water snakes often keep their heads above the water while keeping their bodies submerged, seldom venturing out of the water.

If you believe you have encountered a water moccasin, it is crucial never to approach it. While these snakes are not generally aggressive, they will bite if they feel threatened, and their bite can cause significant harm if not promptly treated.

Can moccasins bite underwater?

Water moccasins have a preference for resting on logs and tree limbs close to the water’s edge, although they are also capable of moving into the water. They can open their mouths and bite underwater, often engaging in swimming hunts for frogs. The manner in which they swim is another distinguishing characteristic of these snakes.


Q1: How can I differentiate a water moccasin from other water snakes?

Ans: Look for features like triangular head, dark eye line, elliptical pupils, and large jowls in water moccasins.

Q2: Where are water moccasins commonly found?

Ans: Water moccasins are primarily found in the southeastern United States.

Q3: What is the typical size range of adult water moccasins?

Ans: Adult water moccasins can vary in length from 8 to 48 inches on average.

Q4: Are water moccasins aggressive towards humans?

Ans: Water moccasins generally avoid humans but may bite if threatened.

By anupam

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