SuperTalk Mississippi

The Cottonmouth: One of Mississippi’s Most Notorious Venomous Snakes

JACKSON, Miss.–With the rains came the floods and with the floods came the snakes. One of the snakes Mississippians are reporting is the venomous cottonmouth. It’s got big fangs, a big display if messed with, and if you’re not careful, a really big bite.

Rule number one with a cottonmouth is leave it alone.

John Hardy, the snake expert at the Miss. Museum of Natural Science, said last week that cottonmouths are one of four venomous snakes in Mississippi and they like water, for the most part. They stay in swamps or bogs or areas where they can get to water easily. That’s why you might see them in flood waters or around flood waters where they’ve been pushed out of their natural habitat.

The way you can tell if what you’re seeing is a venomous cottonmouth, versus a harmless water snake, is the shape of the snake, the head, and the pupil.

A cottonmouth will be short and fat, with a blunt tail. The head will be triangular, and the pupils (not that you want to get that close) will be elliptical. That means it’s not a round pupil. It’s flat.

You may hear people calling the harmless water snakes “water moccasins”. Hardy said that is an accepted term for non-venomous snakes.

“In certain parts of the state, people use water moccasin to describe the non-venomous snakes,” he said. “These days cottonmouth will be the accepted term.”

Hardy said the best thing to do if you want to keep snakes like the cottonmouth away from your house is to mow your yard regularly.

“I’m gonna get all those log piles or brush piles. I’m gonna try to eliminate any cover those animals have. If you’re feeding any animals outside, putting down food for the cats around, get rid of that food source. As much as you love ’em, those bird feeders are gonna bring in squirrels and mice and rats. Even though you love looking at those birds, you’ll want to think about which priority is more important.”

He said moth balls and so-called “snake away” are throwing your money “in a hole”.

Hardy also said he hears a lot of myths about cottonmouths. One of the most common ones is that cottonmouths will ball up, like in the movie “Lonesome Dove”.

“That is not true. Snakes will have breeding events where there’s a female in season and you’ll see them ball up doing their mating dance and you wouldn’t want to cannonball into that action.”


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