Watch a Curious Cottonmouth Follow a Kayaker Uncomfortably Close

Written by Angie Menjivar
Updated: November 16, 2022
© Kristian Bell/
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Key Points

  • Cottonmouths are members of the pit viper family known for their fondness for rodents and their potent venom.
  • They are also known for the white interior of their fanged mouths and their skill at swimming.
  • Although they are generally uninterested in humans, this is a tale of a cottonmouth that acted out of character, until fortunately, the water current came to the rescue.

Although you might think of snakes as typically slithering around on land, they’re actually great swimmers. They use the same wavy movement that they use on land to swim through water. They don’t swim completely submerged; rather, they use this undulating movement to keep momentum and stay either completely above or only slightly submerged underwater.
Cottonmouth snakes keep their entire body on the surface of the water while swimming.

Cottonmouth snakes are a species of pit viper and are native to the southeastern United States. They are poisonous vipers that are considered even more toxic than copperheads.

Western Cottonmouth
Cottonmouths are excellent swimmers with a potent venomous bite

©Psychotic Nature/

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In this video, you can see The Bearded Biologist, a man with a YouTube channel, encounter this curious snake.

The video opens with a rather peaceful kayak ride on a quiet creek. The man is quietly and gently exploring the area. The water is dark, murky green, and there are many trees surrounding the space, which makes for an incredibly lush, green backdrop. There’s something floating in the water just up ahead, and the bearded biologist spots it right away.

As his kayak gets closer, he realizes it’s a cottonmouth viper. It’s floating quietly along, letting the gentle current of the creek take it without making any of those undulating movements that keep it moving forward. It seems to spot the kayaker and turns its head over towards him. Instinctively, the bearded biologist puts up his paddle to defend himself if need be.

The cottonmouth remains curious, its tongue slithering outward in the air, but the current takes it away from the kayaker. It does start slithering toward him, maintaining a curiosity, but eventually lets the natural current of the creek take it away from the kayaker.

Throughout the encounter, the bearded biologist keeps his paddle out, toward the cottonmouth, in defense mode. The camera catches the scene perfectly, and there’s a shot when the viper is right in the center of the screen that you can appreciate just how close it got to the kayaker.

As the current pulls it away from the kayak, the cottonmouth waves its tail a bit, as if fighting the current slightly, still intrigued by the man on the kayak. For a couple of seconds, it keeps slithering toward the camera. The final scene shows when it stops swimming against the current and continues on its way.

Cottonmouth snakes are found across much of the southeastern United States. While cottonmouth snakes are venomous and anyone bitten by the snakes should seek immediate medical attention, their bites are rarely fatal.

A study of fatal snake bites in the United States in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine studied 101 fatal bites between 1989 and 2018. They found that rattlesnakes accounted for 90% of fatal bites. In that time period, only two percent of fatal snake bites came from cottonmouth snakes.

How Likely Is a Cottonmouth to Pursue You?

Like their fellow pit vipers copperheads and rattlesnakes, cottonmouths prefer to wait for their favorite prey to come to them. Which means they prefer to lie in wait for mice and voles and are generally uninterested in humans.

So why was that swimming reptile interested in the kayak? No one can tell for certain.

Thankfully, its swimming skills, notwithstanding, it was unable to swim against the tide and was borne away by the current. A rather lucky occurrence which resulted in a happy ending for the kayaker.

Up next, explore different types of snakes in these crazy videos:

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The Featured Image

Moccasin Snake
Wild juvenile cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus) in Florida
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About the Author

Angie is a writer with over 10 years of experience developing content for product and brand reviews, focusing much of her time on animals of all types. A cat owner herself, she enjoys writing articles on beloved pets that both inform and entertain her audience.

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