What Do Cottonmouth Snakes Eat? 15+ Foods in Their Diet

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 13, 2022
Image Credit KF2017/Shutterstock.com
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The cottonmouth snake is one of the four genera of venomous snakes found in the United States. These venomous snakes are also called water moccasins, owing to their resemblance to other watersnakes and their habit of spending time in and around slow-moving bodies of water. The venomous bites from a cottonmouth snake are deadly to most animals, including humans, in some cases. Their venom allows them to kill animals their size or larger so they can feed on them. So, what do cottonmouth snakes eat? We will show you the staple foods in their diet and how they manage to eat them.

Where Do Cottonmouth Snakes Live?

Largest Rivers in North Carolina - Pee Dee River
Cottonmouth snakes prefer swamps and other slow-moving waters for their habitat.

Don Fink/Shutterstock.com

As with any creature, the cottonmouth snake’s range greatly influences the foods it eats. The cottonmouth snake resides mostly on the southeast coast of the United States. Yet, this animal can be found as far north as Virginia and as far west as parts of Texas. The snake has been sighted in areas of Illinois and Tennessee, but it is much rarer in the mountain ranges of the latter.

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The cottonmouth snake is relatively common within these areas. Interestingly, the cottonmouth snake is a semiaquatic pit viper, one of the few snakes that is designated as such. Therefore, your chances of seeing a cottonmouth snake are higher when you are close to water.

Cottonmouth snakes are great swimmers, and they can be found in warm, shallow, slow-moving water. Creeks, marshes, swamps, and some lakes are the perfect place to find some of these snakes. Cottonmouths show a distinct preference for freshwater. However, they can be found traversing brackish water and saltwater so they can search for food.

In all, cottonmouths live in many places throughout the U.S. Their large range allows them to find and eat many different types of foods.

What Do Cottonmouth Snakes Eat?

Juvenile Cottonmouth Snake swimming in a pond. They have even stronger contrasting bands of colors.
Cottonmouth snakes mostly eat fish.

Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com

Cottonmouth snakes are carnivores that eat birds, fish, amphibians, mammals, some invertebrates, and even other snakes. These snakes live in areas rich with diverse lifeforms, so they have many types of food available to them.

Interestingly, male cottonmouth snakes will eat taller prey than female cottonmouth snakes due to their sexual dimorphism, causing differences in head shape.

Knowing that cottonmouth snakes eat a lot of different animals that are found in their native ranges, we need to look at some specific foods they eat.

A Complete List of 15 Foods That Cottonmouth Snakes Eat

Cottonmouth snakes are considered generalists, so they’re not too picky about their foods. Let’s take a look at the full menu available to them. Here are 15 foods that cottonmouth snakes eat:

  1. Turtles
  2. Baby alligators
  3. Fish
  4. Watersnakes
  5. Cottonmouth snakes
  6. Geckos
  7. Skinks
  8. Shrews
  9. Eggs of various animals, including chickens
  10. Mice
  11. Rats
  12. Carrion
  13. Chickens
  14. Salamanders
  15. Insects

The cottonmouth snake’s scientific name is Agkistrodon piscivorus. The latter part of that name hints at one of the most common foods that cottonmouths eat: fish. However, cottonmouths are known to eat whatever they can bite and swallow; they’re not picky. That’s why you may see them feeding on other snakes, including watersnakes that share their habitat. Cottonmouths may also cannibalize other young cottonmouths if they are particularly hungry.

Another animal of interest on this list of cottonmouth foods is the baby alligator. This habit shows the daring of this snake to go after animals that can certainly punch above their weight class.

How Do Cottonmouth Snakes Hunt?

Cottonmouth Snake
Cottonmouth snakes are opportunistic feeders that find and consume foods.

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

The way that cottonmouth snakes obtain their food is almost as interesting as the diet’s variety. Cottonmouth snakes are considered opportunistic feeders. They will hunt animals, consume eggs they happen to find, and even eat carrion, which few snakes are willing to do.

Sometimes, cottonmouths will use an ambush approach to attacking. They will wait for prey to come to them and then lash out, attacking the animal. In some cases, they will hold the prey until its death. This is the case with smaller prey. When cottonmouths face large prey, they attack in a similar way to most other venomous snakes. They will attack, envenomate, and then retreat until the prey dies.

One myth about the cottonmouth snake is that it can only bite above water. That’s not true, though. Cottonmouths often eat snakes and have no problem biting in the water.

Another interesting habit of cottonmouth snakes is their caudal luring. The basic idea is that the snake will stick its tail into a place where its prey will likely see it. For example, they may be lying on the top of a log and hang their tail over the side.

The cottonmouth snake will then wiggle its tail to mimic a worm. Fish, frogs, and other prey will see that movement and bite the tail. In turn, the snake will deliver a venomous bite to its adversary, either holding it until it dies or biting and releasing the animal. If it performs the latter, the snake will retreat and come back later for a fresh meal.

What Predators Eat Cottonmouth Snakes?

Are Owls Mammals
Owls are capable of attacking and eating cottonmouth snakes.

Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock.com

Although cottonmouth snakes are venomous, they are not apex predators. Many animals eat snakes in this part of the world. In particular, cottonmouth snakes need to worry about birds of prey, snapping turtles, herons, alligators, and more.

Like other animals, the cottonmouth snake is most vulnerable when it is young. Adult cottonmouth snakes are not always an easy meal. Still, some of the predators that are on this list overwhelm the cottonmouth with sudden, deadly attacks.

An alligator, snapping turtle, and some birds of prey would have no problem instantly and decisively killing a cottonmouth snake. Lastly, humans will sometimes eat cottonmouth snakes, but this may be considered a local delicacy. Some humans eat these snakes as part of survivalist training for the military that takes place in the swampy areas of the southeast United States.

The cottonmouth snake is an interesting creature that most people would like to avoid. This venomous animal is not the deadliest snake in the U.S., but it can kill people. Now, you have an answer to the question, “what do cottonmouth snakes eat?” You even know the interesting ways they hunt. In the future, you can have a greater appreciation for the reptiles. Hopefully, it’s an appreciation that will be exercised from a distance.

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Side view of a Cottonmouth snake, ready to strike. The snake has a large spade-shaped head.
Side view of a Cottonmouth snake, ready to strike. The snake has a large spade-shaped head.
KF2017/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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