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Are Northern Water Snakes Venomous?

The northern water snake is quite common. It can be found throughout North America and even in parts of Canada. It prefers to hang out near bodies of water, such as lakes or ponds, as its name suggests, so keep an eye out if you’re spending time near the water this summer!

If you live in North America and spend time near bodies of water (or even if you don’t), now is a good time to learn more about these fascinating creatures! So that when you see one next summer and your friends start to ask, “are northern water snakes venomous?” you’ll be able to answer their question!

Are Northern water snakes venomous?

Northern water snake at rest
Northern water snake at rest | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Northern Water Snakes aren’t venomous, but their bites can be pretty painful. These snakes have a powerful set of jaws, and they use them to bite their prey. Although the venom is not lethal, it can cause your skin to swell and turn red for several hours.

Does a Northern water snake bite hurt?

Northern water snake in freshwater
Northern water snake in freshwater | image by Hodnett Canoe Guides via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

A northern water snake bite may hurt, but it will only cause moderate pain at worst. The snake’s saliva contains enzymes that break down food but also has anticoagulant properties.

This means that if you are bitten by a northern water snake, you may experience some bleeding. To avoid such situations, it is best to leave the animal in its natural habitat.

Here’s what you can do if you get bitten by a northern water snake

If you get bitten by a northern water snake, you will probably not die. The snakes are not venomous, and their bites are relatively mild. You’d have to do something pretty extreme—like trying to catch one with your bare hands—for them to get aggressive enough to strike out at you because they only bite when they feel threatened.

However, if you do get bitten, don’t panic! If this occurs, you can take the following actions:

  1. Don’t panic. Quickly leave the area where the snake bit you to avoid further aggression from it.
  2. Clean wounds immediately with clean water and soap to remove any unclean substances from the snake’s saliva that may have gotten into your skin.
  3. If you are unsure about the species that bit you, you may want to get checked out.

How can you tell if a water snake is venomous?

Northern water snake
Northern water snake | image by Shenandoah National Park via Flickr

There are a couple of ways to determine whether a water snake is venomous. The main one is the triangular head. Water snakes are generally docile and will avoid humans, but they may bite if threatened or cornered.

Look for signs of stress or agitation in the snake’s behavior, such as tight coiling, having its head close to the ground (rather than up in the air), or hissing. Second, take note of the snake’s color.

Non-venomous snakes typically have blotchy patterns of browns and yellows, whereas venomous snakes frequently have bright colors such as reds, oranges, or greens. Although some exceptions exist—some non-venomous snakes have green on their scales—most experts agree that these colors indicate venomous reptiles.

Northern water snakes’ habitat

The northern water snake lives in North America, Canada, and Mexico. The eastern half of the country, from Wisconsin to Florida, as well as many other locations in the country, is where you can find the Northern Water Snake.

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This reptile can be found in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. While they also inhabit swamps, marshes, ponds, rivers, creeks, and ditches, they are most frequently found close to lakes and streams. They are also known to live in lowland valleys where they can bask on rocks or logs.

What is North America’s only venomous water snake?

Water moccasin in water
Water moccasin in water

The Cottonmouth is North America’s only venomous water snake. It’s also known as the Water Moccasin, or simply “Moccasin.” Though just as a matter of fact, the cottonmouth isn’t really a water snake.

Cottonmouths are actually aquatic pit vipers. Water snakes are another group of snakes entirely. They are large, heavy-bodied snakes with a triangular head and a snout resembling that of a viper. They are typically dark brown or black in color with white bands on the sides.

Their venom is highly hemotoxic, which attacks red blood cells, resulting in severe tissue damage and internal bleeding. The best way to avoid cottonmouth bites is to leave them alone. They aren’t aggressive unless they are threatened or cornered.

The difference between a water snake and a water moccasin

Cottonmouth snake hissing
Cottonmouth snake hissing | image by Virginia State Parks via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A northern water snake is a non-venomous snake that lives in water. But the cottonmouth, also known as the water moccasin, is a venomous snake.

Since both species share the same habitat, it might be challenging to tell the two snakes apart. The northern water snake has a smaller, rounded head, while the cottonmouth has a triangular head.


Northern water snakes are not only non-venomous snakes, but they also play an important role in their ecosystems and should be treated as such. They play a crucial role in balancing the food chain by keeping other species in check.