Telling a Water Snake from a Water Moccasin

Many people have developed a fear of snakes, because of over exaggerated incidents that have occurred in the wild. A lot of people automatically flee whenever they see a snake crawling through their bushes. Human instinct suggests leaving an area whenever danger presents itself; however, the majority of snakes do not harm people, unless they feel threatened themselves. Even if a snake does bite an individual, it does not mean it will kill them. A small minority of venomous snakes can fatally wound their victims if nobody finds the necessary help to medically treat the victim in time. According to the University of Florida Wild Life Johnson Lab, the chances of dying from a venomous snake bite ranks pretty close to zero in the United States. In fact, more people are likely to die from a lightning strike than from a venomous snakebite.Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and mistreated species of the snake lives in water. Unfortunately, many individuals presume that if a snake swims in the water, then it must be a water moccasin. While all snakes can swim in water, only a small percentage of snakes actually pose harm to people. Despite these surprisingly low statistics, most people still want to know how to identify venomous snakes from nonvenomous snakes. According to popular opinion, water moccasins have an aggressive nature that scares most people into avoiding it altogether. The truth contradicts this fear, however, because it does not attack without provocation. In fact, most water moccasins rarely attack even when others attack it. Water moccasins value their venom for subduing their prey; therefore, wasting it on self-defense rarely happens unless others intend it harm. The cotton mouth appearance of a water moccasin signals to its predators that it can defend itself to the point of killing those who attack it. The majority of snakebites occur from people attempting to capture, harass, wound, or kill them.Nonvenomous water snakes and moccasins may display similar features, including large, heavy bodies with rough scales and dull colors. However, people can differentiate between the two if they pay attention to their subtleties. For instance, harmless water snakes have slender bodies, while water moccasins have a heavier set. While harmless water snakes and venomous moccasins have dark bands around their bodies with rough-looking scales, they share different head shapes and sizes. Harmless water snakes have slender or flattened heads, whereas moccasins have thick, diamond-shaped heads. In addition, water snakes have no definitive necks, which contrast the narrowness of the moccasin neck. Water moccasins have a pronounced dark facial band, whereas only some water snakes have them. Normal water snakes have round pupils, whereas cottonmouths have vertical eye slits. Lastly, water moccasins have heat-sensing facial pits, as opposed to regular water snakes that do not have them.Water snakes and moccasins prefer different habitats. Cottonmouths tend to inhabit slow-moving streams, swamps, creeks, and backwaters. Most water snakes inhabit large, open reservoirs. Contrary to folk stories, water moccasins do not hang from tree limbs and leap into boats. In fact, moccasins usually bask on flat land, tree stumps, and hollow logs above the water’s surface. Water snakes have the agility to climb tree limbs and shrubs that overhang the water. When faced to leave their current habitat, water moccasins may choose to either remain in place or swim away to a safer place. Witnesses can view the cottonmouth gliding along the water with their head elevated and their bodies appearing overly buoyant.Cottonmouths usually have their heads titled at a forty-five degree angle, and will gape their mouths if threatened by predators. As cottonmouths gape their mouths, people can see the whitish lining along the top of their fangs. A minority of water snakes have the same whitish lining; however, they do not display the same behaviors as cottonmouths. Water moccasins often vibrate their tail if they feel threatened or agitated. The majority of water snakes do not display this behavior, while other nonvenomous snake species do so while on the ground. This specific behavior alone distinguishes water snakes from cottonmouths. Most people should play it safe when confronted with a water snake, whether or not it fits the profile of a water moccasin. Not only will it place people out of harm’s way, it will spare the snake hardship in its natural habitat.