Northern Water Snake

Nerodia sipedon

Mark Moran

Northern Water Snakes are one of our most common snakes. Because their color patterns aren't always the same, and also because they are often covered with mud, water snakes are confused with other species.

Northern Water Snakes grow over four feet long. They can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black. They have dark crossbands on their necks and dark blotches on the rest of their bodies. Also, the older the snake gets, the darker it gets. An older snake will become black.

The belly of this snake also varies in color. It can be white, yellow, or gray. Usually it also has reddish or black crescents (moon shapes).

Copyright, John White

Copyright, Joseph Marsden

Northern Water Snakes live near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers, and canals; just about anywhere there is water. They are active during the day and at night. They are most often seen basking on rocks, stumps, or brush.

During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water's edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

Copyright, John White

Northern Water Snakes mate in April and June. They are live-bearers, which means they do not lay eggs like most snakes. Instead, they carry them inside their bodies and give birth to baby snakes, each one six to twelve inches long. A female may have as many as 30 young at a time. Babies are born between August and October. Mothers do not care for their young; as soon as they are born, they are on their own.

Northern Water Snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs, and other snakes.

Huntley Meadows Park

These snakes defend themselves viciously when they are threatened. If they are picked up by an animal, or person, they will bite, as well as release poop and musk (bad smelling liquid).

Northern Water Snakes often share Winter dens with other snakes, such as Copperheads and Black Rat Snakes.

Muskrat houses and Beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems.

Relationships in Nature:

PREY
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Creek Chub

Virginia Opossum

Common Cattail

Copperhead

Golden Shiner

Red Fox

Tussock Sedge

Black Rat Snake

Southern Leopard Frog

Great Blue Heron

Lizard's Tail

Muskrat SP

Freshwater Leech

Red-tailed Hawk

Common Reed

Beaver SP

Meadow Vole

Barred Owl

Greater Bladderwort

Woodchuck SP

Crayfish

American Robin

Yellow Pond Lily

The Big Red Worm Pa

Spotted Salamander

Common Crow

Pickerelweed

Eastern Painted Turtle

Raccoon

Long-leaf Pondweed

Common Snapping Turtle

Copperhead

Hydrilla

Least Shrew

Black Rat Snake

Common Duckweed

Mallard

Common Snapping Turtle

Dodder

American Toad

Double-crested Cormorant

Spotted Jewelweed

Earthworm

Poison Ivy

Spring Peeper

Wild Grape

Wood Frog

Virginia Creeper

Yellow Perch

Greenbrier

Tesselated Darter

Cinnamon Fern

Bluegill

Switchgrass

Largemouth Bass

Highbush Blueberry

Eastern Mosquitofish

Swamp Rose Mallow

Relationship to Humans:

Northern Water Snakes are extremely helpful to people. They control populations of smaller animals, such as mice. Unfortunately, they are often mistaken for Copperheads and Cottonmouths (also called Water Moccasins, which don't even live in our area), and killed. If you see a snake, it is best to leave it alone. The color patter of a Northern Water Snake can be similar to a Copperhead, even though water snakes are much more common. Never kill a snake without good reason, since they are so important to our environment.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Reptile
ORDER
Squamata
FAMILY
Colubridae
GENUS
Nerodia
SPECIES
Nerodia sipedon

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