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Are There Water Snakes in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts is home to many species of snake, including semi-aquatic species like the Eastern ribbon snake and the smooth greensnake. In total, the Bay State is home of 14 types of snakes. Although you can spot a variety of snakes in the wilds of Massachusetts, only one of these species is considered to be a true water snake.

Water snakes are a part of the genus Nerodia. There are nine species of Nerodia, which can all be found in North America. As their name suggests, these snakes primarily live in freshwater habitats, but can also be seen on land. In this article we learn about Massachusetts’ only type of water snake.

Northern Water Snake

Northern water snake on log
Northern water snake on log | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon sipedon
  • Length: 24″ to 55″
  • Venomous: No

The Northern Water Snake is a subspecies of the Common Water Snake and is found throughout eastern and central North America. It can be found in wetland habitats across Massachusetts, including marshes, streams, and ponds. Although these snakes live in and around the water, they can also be spotted basking on rocks, tree limbs, bridges, or beaver lodges.

These snakes are usually dark and can be found in many colors, including brown, gray, and reddish-brown. They typically have band-like markings across their bodies, with wider markings along the back. As a snake, its color may darken, sometimes becoming completely black. The belly is pale and may feature small black or orange-red crescents.

These snakes are skilled swimmers and enjoy a diverse diet that includes fish, amphibians, crayfish, and insects. Although they mostly feed on prey below the water’s surface, they’ll also hunt on land, where they may eat smaller mammals and birds. They are most active in warmer weather and hibernate during Massachusetts’ cold winters.

Despite being sometimes mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth Snake, Northern Water Snakes are non-venomous and pose no serious danger to humans. Also known as water moccasins, cottonmouths aren’t found any further north than Virginia. If you see a cottonmouth-like snake in Massachusetts, you can safely assume it’s a Northern water snake.

While these water snakes are not aggressive, they may bite when cornered or threatened. It’s also common for snakes to release a foul-smelling musk to scare off potential predators. However, they generally prefer to escape by diving into the water when approached by humans.

Other Aquatic Snakes Found In Massachusetts

While the Northern water snake is the only member of the genus Nerodia in Massachusetts, there are several snake species that can be found near the state’s waters. Like true water snakes, you can spot these snakes near most freshwater bodies in the state.

1. Eastern Garter Snakes

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
  • Length: 18″ to 26″
  • Venomous: No

One of the most common snakes in Massachusetts, the garter snake is usually brown or brownish-green, with yellow stripes across its body. It’s most likely to be seen around the edges of ponds and streams.

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The snake is also a common sight in Massachusetts gardens, where it sometimes basks on desks or alongside swimming pools! Their diet mostly consists of earthworms and small amphibians.

2. Eastern Black Racers

Eastern black racer
Eastern black racer
  • Scientific name: Coluber constrictor
  • Length: 33″ to 60″
  • Venomous: No

These black snakes are distinctive thanks to their size and smooth scales. While they’re found in nearly all parts of Massachusetts, they can’t be seen in Nantucket, which is an island off of Cape Cod. It’s common to see these snakes in wetland habitats, but they also thrive in damp woodlands with access to bodies of water. True to its name, this snake is very fast, traveling at speeds as high as 4 miles per hour.

3. Eastern Ribbon Snake

Eastern ribbon snake
Eastern ribbon snake | image by John J. Mosesso via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific name: Thamnophis sauritus
  • Length: 18″ to 26″
  • Venomous: No

While these snakes are sometimes mistaken for garter snakes, they have slimmer bodies and longer tails. It can be found in and near most freshwater habitats in Massachusetts, but it’s most likely to be spotted near small ponds and streams.

Frogs make up the bulk of its diet, but they’re also known to feed on other amphibians, as well as small fish and insects. You can often spot them basking on logs and muskrat lodges.

4. Smooth Green snake

Smooth green snake
Smooth green snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Opheodrys vernalis
  • Length: 12″ to 22″
  • Venomous: No

Due to its bright green scales, this snake is easy to spot. It can be found across Massachusetts but is most common in coastal areas, such as Cape Cod.

It thrives in wet meadows and marshes, where it can hunt for prey in and out of the water. Since it’s a smaller snake, it mostly feeds on insects and invertebrates, including grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars.

5. Redbelly Snake

Redbelly snake
Redbelly snake | image by smashtonlee05 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Storeria occipitomaculata
  • Length: 8″ to 16″
  • Venomous: No

Although their small size makes them difficult to spot, these snakes live across Massachusetts and New England. They commonly live in damp woodlands but can also thrive in water and are often seen near ponds, swamps, and streams. Redbelly snakes are most active during rainy seasons and may avoid hunting during the day in the hot, dry summer months.