Water Moccasin vs. Cottonmouth: Know Your Snakes!

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Difference between Water Moccasin and Cottonmouth

For most people who live in the southern United States, the Water Moccasin and the Cottonmouth are familiar and unique animals, with the latter often thought of as being slightly more poisonous than the former. We know now that these are two names for what operate as essentially the same creature, and that they are both deadly poisonous. It is easy to see why the two are often thought of as being different however, which is why we thought it fitting to reveal more about these fascinating snakes.

Physical Characteristics

The Water Moccasin or Cottonmouth is quite a large snake, and its muscular body can measure anywhere from 30 to 48 inches. The variety often referred to as Cottonmouth is actually closely related to the Copperhead Viper or Highland Moccasin which grows from 24 to 36 inches and it is quite easy to recognize given its triangular head and distinctive elliptical pupils. The body of the snake is typically colored brown with olive and black markings often present. Although the belly of the snake is a bit lighter in color, the same stripes and markings that can be seen on top go across the belly as well. The name Cottonmouth actually stems from the fact that white markings that look like a patch of cotton can be seen around the area of the throat.


Both people who are familiar with the Water Moccasin and the Copperhead know that they coil up tightly and open their mouth in preparation for a strike. Regardless of what name it goes by, this is quite an aggressive snake to be sure, and it displays many of the same characteristics as highly territorial animals, including mammals. In fact, unlike most snakes that would retreat at an intruder, the Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin has been known to defend its territory aggressively and even advance toward intruders!

Precautions And Treatment

Both the Water Moccasin and the Copperhead are highly venomous snakes, and they should be provided with the respect that they deserve. If you happen to chance upon one in the water, keep in mind that it is perfectly in its element, while you aren't. In such cases, it would be best to leave the immediate vicinity as quickly as you can without rousing the ire of the snake by making movements that it may construe as threatening. If in the unfortunate event that you are bitten, it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Keep in mind that snakebites from these varieties cause as many as 12 deaths each year, so it is essential to take such bites very seriously.


Water Moccasin

  • A large snake coming in at 30 to 48 inches
  • Is perfectly in its element in water
  • Is highly venomous


  • Also quite a large and heavy snake
  • Has a distinctive cotton looking white patch near its throat, hence the name
  • Is very quite aggressive and highly venomous
  • Along with the Water Moccasin is responsible for up to 12 deaths a year

Which snake is more dangerous?
  • Water Moccasin
  • Cottonmouth

Discuss It: comments 4

  • Guest
  • frankie wrote on December 2011

What's the difference between the two smakes

A water moccassin is a cottonmouth.

  • Guest
  • kenneth wrote on April 2014

I didn't think the plain water moccasins were poisionous just the cotton mouths,

They are the same snake. A water moccasin or cottonmouth is highly dangerous as well as the copperhead. They are pit vipers. Basically any snake in water is dangerous and you should avoid it. Copperheads, water moccasins and coral snakes all like water so any snake in water needs to be avoided at all costs.

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