Being the only venomous water snake in North America, the water moccasin has very distinctive blocky, triangular head. The body is thick, and they have a very dangerous bite. They will only bite a human when they feel threatened. Happy both swimming in the water and basking on land makes them semiaquatic. Their native range is the southeastern United States.
Mostly known as the water moccasin, they name cottonmouth comes from the white coloration of the inside of the snake’s mouth. Other names for them are black moccasin, gaper, mangrove rattler, snap jaw, stub-tail snake, swamp lion, trap jaw, water mamba, and water pilot.
Like copperheads and rattlesnakes, they are pit vipers and have the same heat-sensing facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. These particular pits are able to detect a minute difference in temperature so that they can accurately strike the source of heat, which usually is potential prey.
A water moccasin is a large snake, often they range from two to four feet. They have large jowls, due to their venom glands and cat-eye pupils. Helpful identifying features are the dark stripes between each nostril and pale snouts. As well as their large triangular heads, which are distinct from their thinner neck. Most snakes have no distinctive neck. With thick, muscular bodies they are considered stout for their length and are covered in keeled, or ridged scales. They will either be dark brown or black to olive and banded brown or yellow. The belly will be paler than the back.
Natural habit for water moccasins is swamps, marshes, drainage ditches and at the edges of ponds, lakes, and streams. On land, you will find them near water and fields. Their favorite places to sun themselves are branches, stones, water lilies all near the water’s edge. They bask to keep their body temperature up, as it chills quickly in the water.
If you are unfortunate enough to have been bitten by a water moccasin, the venom is potent and can cause permanent damage as the venom is composed mainly of hemotoxins that break down blood cells, preventing the blood from clotting or coagulating. The venom can lead to permanent tissue and muscle damage, loss of an extremity, and depending on the location of the bite, cause internal bleeding with extreme pain around the bite area.
Miramar, Florida ground zero with water moccasins
A study by the University of Florida found that you are 8.6 times more likely to encounter a water moccasin in the housing development Silver Shores than in the Everglades, Big Cypress or Loxahatchee. While doing their study, the researchers encountered 69 water moccasins during their three visits.
Located just west of Interstate 75 on Pembroke Road, several of the homes back up to an undeveloped mitigation area. This is a perfect natural habitat for water moccasins to thrive.
When it rains, it becomes worse. In 2018, the Silver Shores Master Association and KW Property Management settle a lawsuit for $5 million. A resident while heading outside was bitten by a water moccasin that was hiding in the track of her sliding glass door. The snake bit her big toe, and later she had to have her leg amputated just below her knee.