How to identify a WATER MOCCASIN

Newanderthal

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How to identify a WATER MOCCASIN

If you enjoy water sports or hiking near water (even if you only cross over a stream), there's a chance you could run across Agkistrodon piscivorus, the common water moccasin. Common throughout the southeast from Texas to Virginia the water moccasin is typical seen on the banks of rivers and in and around swamps, though can be found anywhere near water. Adults are 3-4 feet in length, though can grow larger. They are thick bodied snakes with a narrow neck and triangular head. They are one of several species in North America that give live birth. Litters of 6-10 are most common, but some have been observed giving birth to 20 live babies.

How dangerous is the water moccasin? Though the snake is 'famous' for being aggressive, the facts seem to indicate the contrary. 400 loggers in the cypress swamps of Florida encountered hundreds of the snakes, actually stepping on some, during a heavy summer harvest in 1921… yet none of them were bitten. Though they cover many thousands of square miles and are sighted frequently, they are the second least likely venomous snake to bite in the US, averaging about 3-5 bites per year, out of roughly 8,000 recorded venomous bites annually. As far as lethality goes, I have a difficult time finding any instances of moccasin fatalities in the US. The last confirmed water moccasin deaths I can find were three cases in Florida in 1934. If anyone else has died since then, I can't find them.

My personal experience with this species, countless encounters over 30 years in multiple states have always gone down the same… I see the snake and the snake slithers away. Sometimes they puff up and hiss a little, but I've never had one stand its ground if I approached.

So how do you identify the water moccasin?
First, look at the body of the snake as a whole. You'll notice that the moccasin is a stout snake. It's thick body is characteristic of vipers. The neck narrows considerably before a thick, triangular head. The pattern is a series of broad bands outlined in black, however many specimens are so dark that the pattern is not visible. The body is slightly triangular with a wide, flat belly and peaked spine.




The head of the moccasin is a blunt triangle, thick with bulbous cheeks where the venom glands rest. A dark band runs from the eye on each side straight back to the rear of the head. This dark line is bordered by a lighter line above and below. The eyes are close to the front of the head and have slit pupils. The top of the head is dark while the underside is light.



Younger specimens are usually much lighter and can even resemble copperheads in appearance. The difference is easily noted by that distinctive black line behind the eyes of the moccasin.




Several species of snakes exist that are easily confused with the water moccasin, mostly various species of water snakes. These harmless animals are killed by the thousands every year for fear of a lethal bite they do not possess. Here are a few examples.


The broad banded water snake is a great mimic of the moccasin and can even be found basking alongside the venomous snake on logs overhanging the water. Though similar in size, shape and coloration, the broad banded water snake has round pupils, an oval head, and vertical lines that run down both sides of its face along the jaws.


The northern water snake is another prime candidate, its appearance similar to that of the moccasin. Again, the head is the wrong shape and those distinctive, thin vertical lines are present.

Now, you might encounter these snakes while they're swimming since they spend much of their time in water. Moccasins eat fish, frogs, tadpoles and even small turtles and a great deal of their hunting is done under water. You probably won't want to get close enough in the pond to study the markings, but luckily you don't have to. Remember when I talked about the wide, triangular body shape? That distinctive body keeps the moccasin almost completely on top of the water.



Compare that with the round body of the harmless water snake. Much of the water snake's body is below the surface.

 

OutdoorMomma

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I live in Indiana and have yet to get a proper answer as to whether or not we have those around here. Some people say yes and that they have seen them, others say that we are too far north for them. After reading this, I am wondering if what people are seeing aren't actually water snakes. Thanks for the information.
 

Hikenhunter

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I live in Indiana and have yet to get a proper answer as to whether or not we have those around here. Some people say yes and that they have seen them, others say that we are too far north for them. After reading this, I am wondering if what people are seeing aren't actually water snakes. Thanks for the information.
Check out this link for an answer to your question Venomous Snakes of Indiana
 

OutdoorMomma

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Check out this link for an answer to your question Venomous Snakes of Indiana[/url]
Oh wow! I knew about the copperheads, but I didn't realize there were others that could be lurking around. We have 40 acres of woods on your property, with access to another 80, so there are plenty of places something nasty could be hiding. Time to teach the kids how to recognize snakes. Thanks!
 

Cappy

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Here's my 2 cents: Mocasins are short fat stubby snakes, they have short triangular heads wider than their necks, like a spear head. They called cotton mouths cause of their white insides of their mouths. Course ya don't wana see that so forget about it. The thing about them is they stink like rotten fish and ya most always smell them fore ya se them. No spit glands and no dental floss :tinysmile_fatgrin_t They are NOT aggressive and will only stand their ground if they have recently shed. That's when they cant see well and will not run away like usual.
 

wvbreamfisherman

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No experience with them, as they're not native to WV nor the mountainous areas in VA that I frequent. I've never run across them in my travels in the South either. As with most snakes, I suppose they really don't want to be bothered and as long as they're not cornered or startled, you're safe enough.
 

Hikenhunter

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Oh wow! I knew about the copperheads, but I didn't realize there were others that could be lurking around. We have 40 acres of woods on your property, with access to another 80, so there are plenty of places something nasty could be hiding. Time to teach the kids how to recognize snakes. Thanks!
I agree, you should teach the kids how to recognize them. Teach them also to respect them and their place in nature. Most often they will not bother you if you leave them alone. With 120 acres at your disposal you are very lucky, yet I will bet that you don't see more than a couple of snakes each year even though you might have many living on that 120 acres.:tinysmile_grin_t:
 

dinosaur

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Up North we don't call them moccasins. We refer to them as Cottonmouths for obvious reasons if you look at that first picture posted by Newanderthal. Good post, by the way.

In Indiana we have four varieties of venomous snakes: the Cottonmouth, the Copperhead, The Timber Rattler, and the Missasauga (not sure I spelled that correctly). The Copperhead is most common. It's been a while since I've seen the others.

I just checked Hikehunter's post: It's Massasauga. It's a variation of the Timber Rattler.
 
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Newanderthal

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I live in Indiana and have yet to get a proper answer as to whether or not we have those around here. Some people say yes and that they have seen them, others say that we are too far north for them. After reading this, I am wondering if what people are seeing aren't actually water snakes. Thanks for the information.
Some parts of Indiana are supposed to have water moccasins, however they are considered endangered in the state. It is very unlikely that you'll come across them. Most people, upon seeing any snake, instantly assume it's venomous. Every water snake becomes a moccasin, every lighter colored snake is a copperhead and everything else is a rattlesnake.

Most states only have 2-6 species of venomous snakes. If you can learn how to identify those few, you're good.
 
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Greatoutdoors

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I did not know that you can smell them before you see them so that's kind of cool. I had a cotton mouth thrown on me by a dog as a child and I have had a severe phobia about snakes ever since. The one thrown on me was dead, but at the time let me assure you that it really didn't matter!
 

Newanderthal

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Moccasins have a musk they use to deter threats that is quite potent. It smells like something rotten that's been left in the sun too long. A sharp, acrid smell. The snakes themselves carry that scent around them all the time but it's much worse when they feel threatened. If you suddenly smell something foul, stop moving and look around.
 
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