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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)
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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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