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Swamp Encounters 101: Water Moccasins vs Water Snakes

Home Swamp Wildlife Swamp Encounters 101: Water Moccasins vs Water Snakes

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There are many snakes found in Louisiana, and despite their reputation, not all snakes are dangerous. In fact, many snakes that live in water are harmless. However, this does not stop some people from being afraid of them. When people are afraid of snakes, then all snakes look the same to them. This results in many harmless snakes being confused with the deadly water moccasin, or the cottonmouth. As a result, they are killed out of fear.

These deaths could be prevented if people were able to distinguish between a water moccasin and a simple Louisiana water snake. The best way to accomplish this is by learning the most noticeable differences between venomous and non-venomous snake species, hence allowing individuals to quickly assess the threat and risk factors of the snake they have encountered.

What are Water Moccasins?

The water moccasin, otherwise known as the cottonmouth, is the only venomous water snake located in North America. They are categorized as pit vipers. This means they have heat-sensing facial pits located between their eyes and nostrils.

Water moccasins are often on the larger side, measuring between 2 to 4 feet long. They are known for having cat-like pupils and large jowls, stemming from their venom glands. Water moccasins possess a few unique identifying features, one being the dark stripes by each nostril. The other is their large, triangular heads attached to a slender neck. This aids in their identification because not many other snakes have such a distinctive neck.

What are Water Snakes?

Harmless water snakes are often mistaken for water moccasins, but they actually come from two different families. Unlike water moccasins, water snakes do not possess pits on their face or triangular-shaped heads.

Water snakes can vary in color depending on the species. However, the most common colors seen are brown, gray, olive green, and red. These colors can change depending on whether the snake is wet or dry. Size can also vary depending on the type of water snake. For example, the northern water snake can reach up to 5 feet. In comparison, other species can reach up to 3 feet. Females tend to grow faster, heavier, and larger than their male counterparts.

Differences in Body Shape

Water moccasins are characterized by having very thick and heavy bodies with short, thick tails. This is unique when comparing the size of other snakes that are equal in length. In contrast, harmless water snakes are characterized by long, slender bodies. Unlike the water moccasin, their bodies are more slender for their length, and their tails are longer.

Differences in Head Shape

Water moccasin vs water snake
Image Credit: KingsleyLake.org

The water moccasin and water snake are both common reptiles found near water sources in the southeastern United States. Both snakes have long, slender bodies and dark-colored scales, but they can be distinguished by their head shape. The water moccasin has a triangular head, while the water snake has a more cylindrical head.

As stated above, water moccasin snakes are known for their thicker heads. Their heads are large and bulky, but their necks are distinctly narrower. The inside of their mouth is also white in color. This is how they gained the nickname “cottonmouth”.

Coiled water moccasin snake threat display with open mouth

Fun Fact:

When threatened, a water moccasin will coil up its body and open its mouth to expose the white coloration, which sharply contrasts its dark body color. This display serves as a warning signal to predators.

In comparison, harmless water snakes have more slender heads. Due to their heads looking flattened, their necks are not as distinct as the water moccasins. So next time you’re out on a hike near a lake or river, take a moment to look for these fascinating creatures — just be sure to keep your distance if you spot a water moccasin!

Water moccasin vs water snake

Cajun Encounters swamp tours offer many ventures to the great outdoors. With the help of our professionally skilled tour guides, you’ll have an opportunity to spot many fascinating species of wildlife, including the possibility of seeing some snakes.

Although these critters have a scary reputation, they still play an important role in the ecosystem by keeping populations of rodents and other small animals in check. Hopefully, with more education about these misunderstood animals, people will learn to appreciate them more and help to protect them from being needlessly killed.

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