Arkansas is a stunning state with plenty of natural beauties – such as the Ozarks and the Ouachita mountains. However, if you’re out exploring Arkansas, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter some wildlife, including snakes. There are 36 species of snakes in Arkansas, and six of them are venomous. There’s one snake in particular that you might have heard of – the cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin. Cottonmouths are venomous and fairly widespread in the state, so let’s find out where they live and how often they bite. We’ll also learn how to identify them and what to do if you see one.
How To Identify Cottonmouths in Arkansas
Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) are just one of six species of venomous snakes in Arkansas. Therefore, one of the first things you need to know is how to identify them. Cottonmouths are large snakes that typically reach 30 to 42 inches long. They have thick, heavy bodies with broad heads, blunt snouts, and strongly-keeled dorsal scales. Most cottonmouths are a dark color – often black – with dark brown or black crossband markings and a lighter cream or yellowish belly. Their ground color is so dark that it might not be possible to see the crossbands. However, the most distinguishable feature of a cottonmouth snake is the bright white color of the inside of its mouth, which is where it gets its name.
Although adult cottonmouths are dark-colored, juveniles do not share the same appearance. Instead, juvenile cottonmouths have a much lighter ground color – usually tan or light brown – which contrasts with their darker reddish-brown crossbands. Juveniles also have a bright yellow tip on their tail which helps to distinguish them from the adults.
As pit vipers, cottonmouths also have two heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils. These are used to detect sources of heat and allow them to strike their prey accurately.
Where Do Cottonmouths Live in Arkansas?
Cottonmouths are widespread across the entire state of Arkansas. However, as they are semi-aquatic, they are usually found near a permanent water source – such as streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, and swamps. Cottonmouths are excellent swimmers and can be found both in and out of the water. They can occasionally be found away from water, although they rarely stray more than one mile away from it. Cottonmouths have a varied diet and feed on various fish, amphibians, lizards, birds, small mammals, and other snakes.
Cottonmouths are most active during April and November. They are primarily nocturnal snakes which reduces the chances of you encountering one.
How Often Do Cottonmouths in Arkansas Bite?
Snakes – especially venomous ones – tend to have a bad reputation for biting, leading to them being feared and, in some cases, hunted. There are approximately 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snakebites in the United States every year, but actually very few deaths – only around five per year. Cottonmouths are actually responsible for only 1% of these, and there are no recorded deaths caused by cottonmouths in Arkansas. However, that’s not to say that they don’t bite, but they typically only bite if threatened or provoked.
Although cottonmouths are not responsible for many deaths, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are not dangerous. Cottonmouths contain a powerful venom which is known as being cytotoxic. This venom is so powerful that it destroys tissue, and although rarely fatal, it can cause extensive scarring. In the worst cases, amputation is sometimes needed.
Cottonmouths also have a fairly high venom yield, with the highest figures putting them at 237mg, although the average is 125mg. The lethal dose for a human is estimated to be between 100 and 150mg.
What To Do if You See a Cottonmouth in Arkansas
Many bites from any venomous snake, including cottonmouths, result from the snake being unwittingly stood on or disturbed. However, as cottonmouths are semi-aquatic accidental bites also occur in the water too.
If you do come across a cottonmouth, then you should steer clear of it and do not attempt to move it. If you happen to find yourself too close to it, then remain calm and back away slowly. Do not make sudden movements or attempt to run, as this is more likely to cause the snake to strike.
What To Do if You Get Bitten by a Cottonmouth
The main symptoms of a cottonmouth bite are intense pain and swelling in the affected area. You should remain calm and make sure that you keep the bite below heart level. Although you might have heard of several ways to treat a snake bite, you should not apply a tourniquet or try removing the venom yourself, as these can worsen the injury.
If you are bitten by a cottonmouth snake in Arkansas, the most important thing to do is seek medical attention immediately. Thankfully, although cottonmouths are venomous, there is anti-venom available.
Other Venomous Snakes in Arkansas
There are five other venomous snakes in Arkansas, and their range varies across the state, as does the threat level.
Western Pygmy Rattlesnake
Although they are venomous snakes, the western pygmy rattlesnake is generally not considered dangerous to healthy adults as they cannot produce enough venom to do so. They are small snakes – only 16 to 25 inches long – with a light to greyish brown body and dark blotches. They are found mainly in the Ozarks, Ouachita mountains, northern Boston mountains, and the southern Central Plains.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The western diamondback rattlesnake is 4 to 6 feet long with a greyish-brown body with darker diamond-shaped markings. They are a species of Special Concern in Arkansas, and there are limited populations only in the Ouachita mountains, southern Boston mountains, and the mountainous regions of Arkansas Valley.
The eastern copperhead, also known simply as the copperhead snake, is a venomous snake found across the entire state of Arkansas, where they live in various habitats. Habitats can include forests, woodlands, swamps, and rocky outcrops. Copperheads are typically 20 to 37 inches long and are a pale or pinkish-tan color overlaid with darker crossband markings.
Texas Coral Snake
The most distinctive snake is the Texas coral snake which is the second most dangerous snake in the United States. These snakes are 12 to 24 inches long and have bright red, yellow, and black bands. They have a similar coloration to non-venomous snakes, such as milk snakes which can often lead to confusion between them. Texas coral snakes are mainly found in and around rivers – particularly the Ouachita and Little Mississippi rivers.
The most dangerous snake in Arkansas is generally considered to be the timber rattlesnake. These snakes are large – around 36 to 60 inches long – and contain a huge amount of highly potent venom. Timber rattlesnakes are found all over Arkansas, mainly in forests and farms. They are ambush hunters and can strike quickly, although they don’t naturally bite unless threatened. They are typically brown with dark brown or black crossband markings.
- How Many People Do Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins) Bite Per Year?
- Discover The Top 6 Largest (And Most Dangerous) Snakes In Arkansas
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- National Library of Medicine, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546645/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Available here: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/default.html#:~:text=Each%20year%2C%20an%20estimated%207%2C000,than%20to%20die%20from%20them
- Live Science, Available here: https://www.livescience.com/43597-facts-about-water-moccasin-cottonmouth-snakes.html#:~:text=%22Like%20all%20pit%20vipers%2C%20%5B,which%20is%20often%20potential%20prey.
- Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Available here: https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes/cottonmouth.html#
- Herps of Arkansas, Available here: https://herpsofarkansas.com/reptiles/snakes/agkistrodon-piscivorus/