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Northern Water Snake

Nerodia sipedon sipedon

Northern water snakes swim actively during the day and at night in lakes, swamps, marshes, rivers and streams. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Northern water snakes swim actively during the day and at night in lakes, swamps, marshes, rivers and streams. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The northern water snake is a non-venomous aquatic snake that lives in lakes, swamps, streams and other waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Highly variable color and pattern: may be tan, gray, reddish or brownish-black. Older snakes are darker, often without a clear pattern
  • Dark crossbands on the neck and forefront of the body. The dark bands are wider than the lighter-colored spaces between them.
  • Alternating dark blotches on the back and sides on the lower half of the body
  • Half moon-shaped spots on the belly
  • Double row of scales under the tail
  • Round pupils
  • Grows 2-4 feet long

Habitat:

  • Found in aquatic habitats including lakes, swamps, marshes, ditches, and freshwater streams and rivers
  • Can live in brackish waters up to 12 ppt
  • Swims actively during the day and at night
  • Often seen basking on stumps, rocks and branches to stay warm

Range:

  • Common throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Feeding:

  • Eats small fish, worms, frogs, salamanders and crayfish
  • Swallows its prey alive

Predators:

  • Large snakes and mammals such as foxes and raccoons prey upon water snakes
  • Escapes predators by diving underwater
  • Can be aggressive when threatened
  • Secretes a foul-smelling odor to keep predators away

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Males begin to breed within two years. Females mate when they are three years old
  • Females give birth to one litter of live young per year, usually in mid- to late summer
  • Water snakes are independent at birth

Other Facts:

  • The most common snake seen in fresh and brackish waters in the Chesapeake region
  • Can stay underwater for an hour and a half without coming up for air
  • Water snakes are not venomous. However, they will bite if they feel threatened. It’s always best to keep a safe distance from all snakes and wildlife, just in case.
  • Can be confused with the venomous cottonmouth. You can distinguish a northern water snake by its round pupils and the double row of scales under its tail.

Sources and Additional Information:




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