Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, are one of 6 venomous snake species found in Georgia. These snakes are often mistaken for non-venomous water snakes (which are illegal to kill in the state of Georgia). Water moccasins are found in most areas of Georgia with the exception of the northern central region. While they often sunbathe on land, logs, or stumps found near water sources, they will also inhabit swamps, backwaters, and slow-moving streams.
Water moccasins are large, heavy bodied snakes with dull colors and rough scales. They have a single row of these scales under their tails (while water snakes have a double row). They also have elliptical eye pupils and heat sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils. Most have banding on their bodies with wider bands on the sides that narrow and taper near the top. These bands look like hourglasses when looking at them from above. They also have a dark stripe that runs from the back of their eye to the corner of their jaw which distinguishes them from water snakes and other species.
When agitated, water moccasins will vibrate their tails (similar to a rattlesnake rattle) and gape their mouths open, exposing the white coloration inside (hence the name cottonmouth). While these snakes have gotten a reputation for being aggressive, they are actually more likely to flee when encountered.
Water moccasins prefer to lay on logs and tree limbs near the water’s edge but will move into the water, as well. They can open their mouths and bite underwater, often hunting for frogs while swimming. The way they swim is also a distinguishing factor for these snakes. Water moccasins swim with their bodies riding on the surface of the water and their heads elevated above the water. They don’t typically submerge underwater, although they can. Water snakes will dive underwater when fleeing from a disturbance.
If you encounter a water moccasin in the wild, don’t panic. Stop moving towards them and back away slowly. Steer clear of them as you make your way away from them. Don’t ever attempt to kill or move a venomous snake on your own. If one makes its way into your home, call a professional wildlife control company for proper snake removal and relocation.
To keep water moccasins from lurking around your home, minimize stacks of wood near your house, get rid of standing water, bush piles, and any other moisture prone cover they can use. They also love to eat frogs so keep populations of these reduced around your property. They love wet hiding places with decaying plants or wood. Keep your home and yard clear and dry.
If you have a problem with snakes, contact your local pest control company for assistance.