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Cottonmouth vs Kingsnake Showdown: Which is a Better Pet?

The cottonmouth is a dangerous snake. It is venomous, and it belongs to the viper family. The Kingsnake, on the other hand, is non-venomous. Between the two, the kingsnake is a better choice for a pet because it’s easier and safer to handle.

Cottonmouth vs Kingsnake Showdown

This comparison will show the stark differences between the two species. From habitat to diet to physical characteristics, and everything else you need to know.

1. Scientific NameAgkistrodon piscivorusGENUS: Lampropeltis
2. Size48 inches16 to 20 inches
3. ColorsLight to dark brown with crossbands and specklesVariations are black, white, red with black bands, and others 
4. RangeEastern and South USAmericas, Southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador
5. Hunting BehaviorOpportunistic hunterConstriction
6. Breeding SeasonApril to MayMarch to August
7. Lays EggsNo (ovoviviparous)Yes
8. Pet BehaviorFor experts onlyBetter for beginners
9. VenomousYesNo
10. Life Expectancy10 years in the wild; 24 in captivity20 to 30 years
11. DietVertebrates, birds, amphibians and fish other snakes, baby crocodiles and turtlesOphiophagous (eats snakes)

Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmedConsult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Cottonmouth Overview

The cottonmouth is commonly referred to as the water moccasin. It likes to live near bodies of water, and they are typically found in the United States. Particularly, in the southeastern areas of the country. 

Read More: Snakes That Live In Water

A cottonmouth is called so because the inside of its mouth is white. Humans, on the other hand, have pinkish mouths. The cottonmouth opens its mouth wide if it feels threatened or if it is under stress. 

The cottonmouth snake is venomous, and it belongs to the family of vipers, all of which are dangerous to humans. Specifically, it belongs to the Crotalinae family. It is the same species of rattlesnakes and copperheads. 

Cottonmouths are semi-aquatic. What this means is that part of their lives is spent in water to hunt for food. They eat fish from freshwater, and they also eat small turtles and baby alligators. 

Read More: Does Water Attract Snakes?

A cottonmouth has a bite that is dangerous to humans. However, there is little information about the venom’s toxicity. There is also little knowledge about the treatment of a cottonmouth’s bite. They rarely bite humans, and they only do so if they are cornered, provoked, or if they under duress. 

A cottonmouth typically swims, and it loves basking on land. It is this behavior that gave it the nickname water moccasin. The cottonmouth is the only venomous semi-aquatic snake in the United States. 

Apart from water moccasin, it does go by other nicknames:

  • Black moccasin
  • Mangrove rattler
  • Water pilot
  • Trap jaw mamba
  • Gaper
  • Snap jaw
  • Swamp lion

Like all pit vipers, a cottonmouth has heat-sensing pits between its eyes. It can detect heat, and it uses that to hunt its prey.

As far as size is concerned, the cottonmouth can grow up to 48 inches (four feet) long. At four feet, it is a formidable venomous snake that one should not trifle with. 

To identify a cottonmouth, one has to remember that it is typically light to dark brown in color. It has dark brown crossbands and speckles. Some adults are black. Like other vipers, they have slit eyes.

Kingsnake Overview

The kingsnake is an ophiophagous animal. This means is that its main diet is comprised of other snakes. It kills venomous snakes, including dangerous ones like the rattlesnake. It is for this reason that it is called a king. 

The kingsnake kills its prey by constriction. Since it has no venom, it has to overpower its prey. When eating a snake, its technique is to bite the jaw shut of the other snake. It has amazing speed and reflexes.

Read More: Crazy Snakes that Eat Other Snakes

The kingsnake is one of the most common snakes in North America, and it comes in many colors. There are other kingsnake subspecies, and the milk snake is one of them. 

Kingsnakes are typically black with white bands. Some subspecies are red with white and black bands. Kingsnakes are popular among pet owners because they are not venomous

The entire genus of the kingsnake is Lampropeltis. It is a Greek word that means “shiny shields.” It got that name because its scales are shiny. 

There are many kinds of kingsnakes, and here are some:

  • Black kingsnake
  • Eastern kingsnake
  • Speckled kingsnake
  • Sonora kingsnake
  • Milks kingsnake
  • Scarlet kingsnake

The black kingsnake is the most known among their species. 

The kingsnake is an issue of debate in the scientific community. Some scientists believe that they belong to a separate species. Current studies now assign species according to findings of molecular biology, whereas previous theory was purely based on appearance.

In 2009, a team of scientists said that some subspecies of the kingsnake should be classified as a different species. Some also say that the scarlet kingsnake is its own species. 

Related Article: Do Pet Snakes Need Light at Night?

Cottonmouth vs King Snake Comparison

1. Appearance

The cottonmouth is light brown with dark brown bands and spots or speckles. As they get older, they become darker to the extent that one would think they are black. 

The kingsnake has no single appearance because there are many subspecies of it. The milk snake, for example, can be red with black and white bands. It can also be brown with white and black bands. 

Some kingsnakes are black with white bands. Some are brown, and some are speckled. To learn more, one has to identify the particular species and see which colors they possess. 

2. Venom

The cottonmouth is a venomous snake, while the kingsnake is not. The cottonmouth uses its venom to kill its prey and then eats it whole. 

On the other hand, the kingsnake is a constrictor. It bites the snake’s jaw to keep it shut. From here, the kingsnake may thrash. Once the prey’s head is in its mouth, the kingsnake begins to swallow, even if the prey is alive. 

The cottonmouth is dangerous to humans. Even if reports of bites are rare, they possess enough toxicity to kill a human being

3. Habitat

The kingsnake is common in the United States and Mexico. Since they hunt snakes, it is not unusual to find them in any area where there are other snakes. 

Cottonmouths live in wetlands. As a semi-aquatic animal, it lives close to ponds. One can also see a cottonmouth in mangroves and swamps. It is not unusual to see one lying around, basking under the sand, by the lake.

4. Reproduction

The cottonmouth is ovoviviparous. What this means is that the animal incubates the egg from the inside, then it gives birth to live young. It can deliver a litter of six to eight snakelings at a time. They mate between April and May. 

Kingsnakes lay eggs. They typically mate in spring, late spring, or early summer. Their mating habits are influenced by the temperature in their environment. Generally speaking, they mate between March and August. During this season, a female may lay eggs several times.  

5. Pet Viability

Both cottonmouths and kingsnakes can be pets, however, the cottonmouth requires special handling from experts only. As a venomous snake, it poses a serious health risk to untrained snake handlers.

Cottonmouths are capable of digesting fish, and it also eats frogs, other snakes, birds, and even eggs. 

Kingsnakes are better, though, because they are not venomous. A bite from a kingsnake is not as dangerous, although it still carries a risk of infection. Most cases of severe bites from non-venomous reptiles develop because of the bacteria and viruses they have in their mouths. 

As pets, kingsnakes are easy to keep than cottonmouths. The challenge is the food, considering that they eat snakes. However, they can survive on mice, and this is what snake keepers feed them. 

6. Hunting

The cottonmouth is an active hunter like the rest of its pit viper family. It strikes to bite and waits until the prey dies. Then, it swallows its prey whole.

The kingsnake is a constrictor. It bites its prey and wraps itself around it. As the victim dies, the kingsnake begins to swallow. If the prey is a snake, the kingsnake bites the other snake’s jaws and then swallows it alive. 

Because the prey snake cannot open its mouth, it cannot fight the kingsnake back. There is no escape once the kingsnake has the other snake’s head in its mouth. 

Summary: Cottonmouth vs Kingsnake Showdown

Kingsnakes are great for pets because they are not venomous. However, one challenge that a person may have is its diet. It eats mainly snakes. It is going to be a challenge, but it can survive on mice. 

The cottonmouth, on the other hand, is a dangerous snake that can harm humans. It is best left alone. If one even considers having this snake as pet, he has to guarantee that he is an expert in handling venomous snakes.

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