BIO 203

Where art thou from?

In this section, you will learn where the Western Cottonmouth falls when it comes to the taxonomic structure of all organisms and why the cottonmouth falls into those specified categories.  But first, what is the classification page, taxonomy, and why should I even read this page?  Taxonomy is the classification of the organism, and the classification page is where you can find what groups the Western Cottonmouth is found in. It also helps to show what animals are related, either very closely or somewhat closely, to the cottonmouth.  Reading this page would give any person valuable information into the insight of what it means to be any group below. From the most exclusive to the most inclusive, these groups also help to distinguish between other groups (usually through different traits), so found out all about this stuff below!


Domain: Eukarya

There are only three domain. Eukarya contain the organisms that have a true nucleus, which the cells of the Western Cottonmouth have.  Along with the true nucleus, the Western Cottonmouth also will divide its cells by mitosis which helps it to be classified into the Eukaryotes.

Kingdom: Animalia

The organisms that fit into this category do so because of the mode of acquiring nutrition. All the organisms are all heterotrophs. This means they don't make their food, but they must ingest their food directly and digest it.  Also all the members of this kingdom are multicellular and contain no cell walls in the cell.

Phylum: Chordata

The phylum of Chordata is perfect for the Western Cottonmouth because of the organism having a bilaterally symmetric body that is separated into three main parts; the head, the trunk, and the tail.  The phylum is also known for having organisms that are primarily aquatic versus terrestrial living organisms.  One other defining characteristic is the fact that this phylum also has organisms that are considered triploblastic, which means that the organism has three layers of tissue (the mesoderm, ectoderm, and the endoderm). Having these three layers of tissue also allows for the organism to be a ceolomate - having a fluid filled sac within the organism's mesoderm layer.

Class: Reptilia

The class of reptilia animals is perfect for the Western Cottonmouth because like the other hundreds of organisms in the class, they all are cold blooded; meaning that the organism does not regulate its own body temperature and must perform actions so as to accommodate the change in temperature.  During times of great heat, the organism will seek out shade to avoid overheating, while during extreme cold they will seek heat to avoid hypothermia.  Being cold blooded is advantageous to this organism because it doesn’t need to burn calories to maintain body heat and therefore doesn’t need to consume as much food as often.  Also beneficial to the organism is the ability of this class to lay hard shelled eggs (gives the youngling a little extra protection to develop inside of) and the evolution of scales (help to retain moisture better).

Order: Squamata

The order squamata contains the Western Cottonmouth because all of the members of the order share the same or at least similar structure in bone and the anatomy of the male sex organ.  Also, the members of this order tend to shed their skin periodically.

Family: Viperidae

This family is known commonly as the Viper family and is characterized by the venomous nature of the organisms in it, along with a head that is distinct from the rest of the body.  The head is also specialized to hold two hollow, venom injecting fangs that are able to be folded back towards the top of the mouth.

Sub-Family: Cortalinae

The Western Cottonmouth fits into this taxonomic grouping because this is a group of venomous vipers found within the Asian and American countries, but are distinguished between other subfamilies by the presence of a heat sensing pit organ located between the eye and the nostril on the head.

Genus: Agkistrodon

The Western Cottonmouth is applicable to this genus because this genus is one of venomous pit vipers found in North America. Agkistrodon has been found to mean fishhook in Greek which most likely can be attributed to the fangs of the snake.

Species:  Agkistrodon piscivorous

The Western Cottonmouth is a good fit for this genus because of the location it inhabits with its two other members of the species (the southeastern United States) along with the knowledge that these three species are the only in the world that are semi-aquatic vipers.  It has even been found that in Latin the “piscis” and “voro” mean “fish” and “to eat”; this genus is known for eating fish and adapting well to feed on them. Because this web page is dedicated to a specific sub species, if you wish to find out general information on the species please click the species name above.

Sub-Species: Agkistrodon piscivorous leucostoma

The Western Cottonmouth fits here because of the three cottonmouth species; the Western is the one that ventures the farthest west while the other two stay primarily on the east coast and in the state of Florida.


In case you would like to see everything laid out in front of you, please click the link below to a cladistic phylogenetic tree. HERE


After learning about all these classifications of organisms, it is time to conclude this page and move forward to learning about where this wonderful creature lives in the habitat page...see you there!