Mississippi is a state in the southeastern region of the United States, best known for the famous Mississippi River which is situated along its western boundary. However, Mississippi has far more to offer than just its stunning geography – with many thousands of animals calling it home. There are 55 snake species in Mississippi, six of which are venomous. The cottonmouth is a particularly abundant snake in this state. So, let’s discover everything you need to know about cottonmouths in Mississippi!

Identifying Cottonmouths

Cottonmouths snakes (Agkistrodon piscivorus) are thick-bodied snakes that live in the southeastern region of the United States. They measure 30 to 42 inches long and have dark-colored bodies (brown or black) with even darker crossbands. However, cottonmouths can sometimes be almost entirely black, making their markings difficult to notice.

Young cottonmouths don’t appear the same as adults. They are light brown and have reddish-brown colored crossbands, although they do get darker as they age. Their yellow tail is their most noticeable feature.

However, the best-known distinguishing feature of cottonmouths, regardless of their age, is their mouth. This is due to the bright white color of the inside which looks like cotton. It is the origin of their name.

Moccasin Snake
Cottonmouths have dark-colored bodies and white mouths.

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Where Can You Find Cottonmouths in Mississippi?

Cottonmouths are some of the most common venomous snakes in Mississippi and they inhabit the whole state. They are semi-aquatic, and due to their water-loving nature they are live in and around most wetland habitats, including ponds, streams, swamps, and ditches.

Cottonmouths are also known as water moccasins and are often confused with several types of water snakes, such as the midland water snake, banded water snake, diamondback water snake, and the Mississippi green water snake. Unfortunately, people kill many of these harmless water snakes because they mistake them for cottonmouths. However, it is important to remember that cottonmouths are the only venomous water snake in Mississippi.

Cottonmouth swimming in water. The snake has a long, thick, muscular body measuring up to 6 feet in size.
Cottonmouths are often confused with other non-venomous water snakes.

Seth LaGrange/Shutterstock.com

How Often do Cottonmouths Bite in Mississippi?

Venomous snakes are (with good reason) feared all around the world and every year there are approximately 7,000 to 8,000 bites in the US alone. However, venomous snakes don’t actually kill as many people as you might expect – averaging five deaths per year. Statistically, cottonmouths are only responsible for 1% of these.

Although there are not any records documenting the exact number of cottonmouth bites in Mississippi, state websites indicate that they are responsible for more bites than any other venomous snake in the state. However, this could be attributed to the greater prevalence of the cottonmouth.

Although you might think that venomous snakes are inherently aggressive and go out of their way to attack, this is not actually true. Instead, most venomous snake bites actually occur because the snake is harassed, threatened, or accidentally stood on. In fact, snakes prefer to flee to safety than stand their ground and threaten you.

However, there are things that you can do to reduce your chance of being bitten by a venomous snake. The most important thing to do is watch where you step, especially if you are near leaves, fallen logs, or swamps – and always wear trousers and shoes that cover and protect your ankles. Additionally, you should take care if you are trying to identify a snake and make sure you remain a good distance away to stay out of striking range. Also, never attempt to handle any snake, even if it is dead.

Most venomous snake bites occur because the snake is harassed, threatened, or accidentally stood on.


What Should You do if You See a Cottonmouth?

If you encounter a cottonmouth, it might adopt a defensive posture where it coils itself up and opens its mouth wide to expose the white lining. The best option is to move slowly away from the snake. Do not run away or move suddenly, as this will encourage it to strike.

If you are between a cottonmouth and a pond or stream, then slowly move away as the snake will want to return to the water for safety. Giving the snake a chance to escape will lessen the chances of a strike.

Cottonmouth Venom

Although cottonmouths are not the most venomous snake in the world, they do contain a lot of venom. Every bite contains an average of 125mg of venom, although in some cases this figure can be as high as 237mg.

Most venomous snakes contain one of four types of venom – neurotoxic, cytotoxic, hemotoxic, or proteolytic. Most pit vipers, including cottonmouths, have cytotoxic venom. Although cytotoxic venom isn’t as strong or deadly as other types of venom, it can still be highly dangerous.

The main problem with cytotoxic venom is that it destroys tissue. In fact, it often causes serious blisters, aptoptosis (cell death), and necrosis (tissue death). In some cases, amputation of the limb may be needed.

Cottonmouth Snake
Although cottonmouth venom isn’t as deadly as other types of venom, it can still be highly dangerous.

Marcum Havens/Shutterstock.com

What Should You Do if a Cottonmouth Bites You?

Unfortunately, cottonmouths do bite people, and although their venom isn’t especially deadly, it is dangerous. Therefore, the most important thing to do is seek medical help immediately. Even if the bite doesn’t seem to be bad, it can quickly worsen in a matter of hours. Thankfully, anti-venom is available and usually works fairly quickly.

Other Venomous Snakes in Mississippi

There are five other venomous snakes in Mississippi you should steer clear of:

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)

Three of Mississippi’s venomous snakes are rattlesnakes, but the smallest and least dangerous is the pygmy rattlesnake. Pygmy rattlesnakes are approximately 16 to 24 inches long and are light grey to tan with large black blotches and a red stripe down their body. They are typically only dangerous to children, the elderly, or people with pre-existing medical conditions. Pygmy rattlesnakes are widespread across most of Mississippi in swamps and forests, although they are more common in the northeastern region and along the Gulf Coast.

Pygmy rattlesnakes are light grey to tan with large black blotches.

Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Copperheads are 20 to 37 inches long and are a pinkish tan color with darker crossband markings. They are one of the most common venomous snakes in Mississippi and inhabit the entire state, with the exception of the barrier islands and along the Gulf Coast. They typically prefer hardwood forests, but they live in fields and grasslands too. In general, copperheads have weaker venom than cottonmouths.

Eastern Copperhead
Copperheads prefer hardwood forests, but they can be found in fields and grasslands too.

Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Another rattlesnake in Mississippi is the timber rattlesnake which reaches 36 to 60 inches long. They are dark brown with darker brown or black crossband markings. Timber rattlesnakes mainly live in forests and river valleys across most of the state, with the exception of the Gulf Coast. Although they are highly venomous snakes, they generally have a fairly mild nature.

A Timber Rattlesnake striking prey
. Timber rattlesnakes mainly live in forests and river valleys across most of the state.

Joe McDonald/Shutterstock.com

Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius)

A smaller, yet highly venomous snake is the eastern coral snake. These snakes are 24 to 36 inches long and have a very distinctive appearance with bands of red, yellow, and black. They live in the southeastern region of the state in sandy flatwoods, although they are secretive and rarely seen.

Eastern Coral Snake
The eastern coral snake is very distinctive with bands of red, yellow, and black.


Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)

The largest venomous snake in Mississippi is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake which can reach 7 feet long. They have thick, heavy brown bodies with dark brown to black diamond-shaped markings with lighter centers. Eastern diamondbacks were once common in Mississippi but are now located only in the southeastern corner of the state in flatwoods, forests, and swamps.

eastern diamondback rattlesnake curled up in grass
The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in Mississippi and can reach 7 feet long.


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