Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins because they are found near water, are found throughout North Louisiana. These snakes have the worst reputation of any species in Louisiana…and no, not because they wear tight clothes and hang out of Camaros mooning people. These snakes are accused (wrongfully, I believe) of being the most aggressive animals in the state…and possibly in the South. Legend has it that cottonmouths will actually drop down from trees into people's boats just to harass them! I believe that these snakes receive undue credit for the actions of other water snakes. Stop profiling, y'all. Just because a snake hangs out near water, that doesn't mean it's a criminal.
Unlike most snakes in North Louisiana, cottonmouths come in multiple colors and may be grey, brown, or black. These colors and their occupation of habitats near water often cause them to be confused with other nonvenomous water snakes, including the banded water snake and the diamond-backed water snake.
In addition, both copperheads and cottonmouths are found near water, and juvenile and brown adult cottonmouths are often confused for copperheads. Cottonmouths are generally thicker bodied than copperheads. Cottonmouths are easy to identify because unlike these other snakes, they have black masks that jut out from their eyes (which I believe may contribute to their sinister reputations). Both cottonmouths and water snakes have triangular heads, although the cottonmouth has a flatter head, and like copperheads and rattlesnakes, have slits for pupils. Water snakes and other nonvenomous snakes have round pupils.
As I stated before, I believe that many of the attacks by “cottonmouth” are misidentified and are attacks by water snakes. In my experience, cottonmouths are far less likely to strike than copperheads. Those snakes are truly angry. Anyway, all the cottonmouths I’ve had the pleasure of encountering have been eager to leave my presence, not chase me. However, if you force a cottonmouth to stand its ground, it will resort to a variety of measures to get you to leave. One is a heavy musk. Believe me; it stinks. If that’s not enough to get you to leave, it will likely resort to its most famous defensive posture.
The snake will open its mouth to present its white, cotton-colored interior. When they do this, they’re not waiting for you to examine their tonsils, and, contrary to popular belief, they're not waiting for you to tap a keg. They’re showing you their impressive bite. The size of the bite is due to snakes’ abilities to unhinge their jaws, which they mainly do when eating.
Because cottonmouths are semiaquatic, they are most commonly found in moist habitats near water. These snakes can be found in bodies of water including bays, salt marshes, lakes, creeks, ditches, and even on river bottoms. Cottonmouths prefer wetlands but are also found on land in vegetation and under logs and branches.
Cottonmouth venom is hemotoxic, meaning that it breaks down red blood cells, and is like copperhead venom. In fact, the same antivenom is used for copperhead and cottonmouth bites. Cottonmouth venom, however, is more potent than copperhead venom and is more likely to be fatal. Although with proper medical attention, deaths from cottonmouth bites are rare.
To learn more about recognizing our venomous and nonvenomous snakes, go to our “Venomous or Nonvenomous?” page. You can also find information about cottonmouths at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries websites.
Where to Find North Louisiana Cottonmouths
You can find North Louisiana cottonmouths near water.