Caravelle - Wildlife
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Species Spotlight: Cottonmouth
Florida has 44 snake species, and the cottonmouth or “water moccasin” is one of only six that are venomous. This species occurs in every county in the state and on many coastal islands. Cottonmouths are water-loving snakes and prefer wooded wetlands such as the forested margins of lakes and marshes and the banks of wooded streams. The name, cottonmouth, comes from this snake’s habit, when disturbed, of drawing into a loose coil, cocking its head upward and opening its white-lined mouth.
Body color varies from olive-brown to black, with or without dark crossbands. Young cottonmouths may be mistaken for copperheads; they are boldly marked with reddish-brown crossbands and have bright yellow tails. Like young copperheads and pigmy rattlers, young cottonmouths hold their tails aloft and slowly wriggle them as worm-like lures for frogs and lizards. Adults are stout-bodied with an abruptly tapering tail and a broad head much wider than the neck. A distinctive mark is the dark cheek stripe that extends from the eye to the rear of the jaw. Most Florida specimens are less than three feet long.
At night, cottonmouths hunt for prey such as fish, frogs and small mammals; they also eat birds, eggs, lizards and other snakes. During the day, they rest near water, in grassy areas or under piles of debris. Cottonmouths give birth to between 6 and 12 young, born fully equipped with fangs and venom. Bites from cottonmouths result in severe pain and swelling, but with proper medical attention, are rarely fatal. Though cottonmouths occur throughout the state, most snakes seen along Florida’s waterways are harmless water snakes.