Copperheads vs Cottonmouths in Texas

Texas Cottonmouths and Copperheads

Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) are poisonous snakes that are closely related and commonly encountered in the United States. Because these two species appear similar at first glance, they are sometimes confused with one another.

The Copperhead and Cottonmouth are two species of venomous snakes in the pit viper family. Both of these snakes can be found throughout North America, and they have similar physical characteristics which can make them difficult to tell apart.

The primary difference between the Copperhead and Cottonmouth is their coloration. The Copperhead has a tan or pinkish-brown body with darker brown bands, while the Cottonmouth is usually black with dark crossbands that may appear brownish or gray in some individuals. In addition, the head of a Copperhead is typically lighter than its body, while the head of a Cottonmouth is usually darker than its body.

In terms of behavior, both species will display a warning posture when threatened which involves raising their heads off the ground and opening their mouths wide to expose their fangs and white mouth lining.

Copperhead Venom vs. Cottonmouth Venom

Copperheads live in Eastern North America, but Cottonmouths, the world’s only semi-aquatic vipers, are found in the South Eastern US.

Cottonmouth snakes are thought to have more potent venom. Copperheads are regarded as less venomous, and the question of whether bites from copperhead snakes require antivenom treatment is debatable. Both the copperhead and the juvenile cottonmouth snakes are brown in color.

Copperheads are unlikely to kill a human if bitten, however, cottonmouths (also known as Water Moccasins) can.

Cottonmouths (water moccasins) in Texas

Cottonmouth snakes can be found in ponds, marshes, swamps, lakes, ditches, and canals in East and Central Texas, as well as along the Gulf coast, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. These snakes may bite underwater and are quite defensive, if not hostile. They frequently swim with their heads above the water while the rest of their bodies are barely touching the water instead of being entirely immersed.

Cottonmouth snakes are nocturnal that are most active from April to October. They can, however, be spotted lazing in the sun on mild Texas winter afternoons.

Copperheads in Texas

Copperhead snakes have gray and/or brown bands on their heads and blend in with the foliage. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, because copperheads are so well hidden, bites are common when the snake is mistakenly picked up, sat on, or laid on.

Cottonmouths have White Mouths

When attacked, Cottonmouths will frequently open their jaws wide and display their namesake-white mouth (they are called Cottonmouths for a reason). Copperheads can open their jaws as well, but they do it less frequently and have a more pinkish color. Cottonmouths don’t always open their mouths, thus we can’t always tell them apart with this attribute.

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths will not bite you unless absolutely necessary. That’s why they’ve put on some fantastic defensive performances. The purpose of these defensive displays is to frighten off predators before they bite. Fortunately, one of the most popular presentations provides an excellent opportunity to distinguish Cottonmouths from Copperheads.

Copperheads vs Cottonmouths Colors and Patterning

Cottonmouths have a different color and patterning on their bodies than Copperheads.

Adult Copperheads are the color of chocolate milk with a chocolate kiss pattern. That’s a fantastic parallel, in my opinion. The majority of Copperheads are this color, with a brown hourglass banding pattern. However, depending on the individual and where it is found, some Copperheads may appear a little browner or a little more orange.

Adult Cottonmouths, on the other hand, frequently seem practically black or dark brown, unlike adult Copperheads. Some Cottonmouths, on the other hand, are not so dark that you can’t see a pattern. Cottonmouth patterns appear to be similar to Copperhead patterns, but the hourglass bands of a Cottonmouth are not as accurate as those of Copperheads: they are sloppy, the lines are blurred, and other shapes are often tossed in as well. Cottonmouths, in general, darken with age, hiding their patterns. This takes us to an essential point.

cottonmouth
Cottonmouths have a dark band running through their eye on their face. Copperheads, however, do not.

Cottonmouths are as brilliantly and vividly marked as Copperheads as babies, but they don’t turn dark and lose their pattern until they are adults. The presence of distinct markings on a baby Agkistrodon does not imply that it is a Copperhead. This is where you can tell if the hourglasses are messed up or not. Copperhead bands are crisp, whereas Cottonmouth bands are not. However, in some areas, Copperhead patterns can be a little sloppy.

Contrary to popular belief, both Cottonmouths and Copperheads have a brilliant yellow or green tail tip when they are babies (they use it to attract prey), hence the presence of this bright tail tip cannot be used to distinguish the species.

Cottonmouths vs. Copperheads Habitats

Cottonmouths and Copperheads can be found in various sections of the Southeast and Midwest of the United States. However, there are numerous locations where only one occurs. Cottonmouths, for example, can be found across Florida, whereas Copperheads are exclusively found in the panhandle.

Copperheads, on the other hand, can be found across much of the northern United States, but the last place you’ll find them is in Virginia. I recommend that you look at Cottonmouth and Copperhead range maps to see if you can rule out one or both of these species while trying to identify a snake around your house.

Copperheads vs Cottonmouths Environments

Copperheads and Cottonmouths typically inhabit separate environments.

Cottonmouths prefer damp and/or swampy settings, whereas Copperheads prefer more highland and forested areas. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, thus it should be utilized in conjunction with the other suggestions presented here.

Cottonmouths may migrate out of their swamps when they dry up, and they can appear unexpectedly in newly formed wetlands created by recent rains (they showed up to feast on breeding amphibians and would have had to travel across long stretches of pine forest to get there). I’ve never seen a Copperhead in the water, so I’m guessing it’s a rare occurrence.

Final Word

In conclusion, the Copperhead and Cottonmouth are both venomous snakes that can be found in the United States. However, they are different in size, color, and habitat preferences. In addition, their behavior is also distinct from one another; Copperheads are shyer while Cottonmouths will readily stand their ground when threatened. It is important to be able to identify these two snakes so that people can remain safe when out in nature.

Want to Learn More? Check Out These Scientific Articles:

X. Glaudus, K.M. Andrews, J.D. Willson, & J.W. Gibbons (2007). Migration patterns in a population of cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) inhabiting an isolated wetland Journal of Zoology, 121, 119-124 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00232.x

E.A. Eskew, J.D. Willson, & C.T. Winne (2009). Ambush site selection and ontogenetic shifts in foraging strategy in a semi‐aquatic pit viper, the Eastern cottonmouth Journal of Zoology, 277, 179-186 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00527.x

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