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Cottonmouths are pit vipers that use a well adapted heat seeking pit that lies between its eyes and nose. This becomes very useful to the cottonmouth allowing it to accurately strike seeking prey on warm-blooded animals.


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They are also adapted to eating large meals, consuming prey that are larger than their body size and weight.  During times of excessive eating they can store these big meals for long amounts of time which may be why the cottonmouth shifts from being very abundant to being scarce.  When environmental temperature drop the snake allows its own body temp to correlate with it by seeking other cooler/warmer places within its habitat. Cottonmouths are well adapted to conserving their energy. They seek cooler places when they are trying to harness there energy since metabolic rate decreases as body temp decreases. This makes them capable of being able to fast for many months to even years. A study done conducted by Steven Secor and Jarod Diamond shows that some snakes including the cottonmouth will conserve energy in other ways beyond thermoregulation.  Some snakes that feed infrequently and on large meals will essentially turn their gut tissues off when in a non-feeding condition.  This means that they allow the cells lining their gut to atrophy (weaken/degenerate), stop producing enzymes, and wait until food is present in the gut before becoming active again.  During this period of “gut refurbishing” or “upregulation”, resting metabolic rates can skyrocket to seven times as great as they were previous to feeding (Secor et al. 1994; Secor and Diamond 1995)

Provided by Dr. Chad Montgomery

The cottonmouth has various ways of offsetting rapid heat loss.  Coiling itself tight against its own body reduces the exposed surface area.  Following are various ways a cottonmouth has been observed to sprawl out during warm/cool periods throughout a given day or seasonal changes.



The cottonmouth produces a venomous substrate of  that is produced by the glands located by wear the upper and lower jaws join. As the snake strikes and inserts its fangs in the prey, the muscles surrounding the poison sacs contract and squeeze the venom along ducts that lead to the base of the fangs. The venom then travels through the snakes hollow fangs and out a small opening at the tip of the fangs and into its prey.


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The venom of the cottonmouth is hemotoxic. This means that the venom breaks down and destroys blood cells and other tissues and reduces the ability of blood to coagulate or clot. This results in a hemorrhage throughout any portion of the circulatory system that has been penetrated by the venom.