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Are There Water Snakes in New Mexico? 

New Mexico is a desert state full of pine forests, open shrubland, and snow-capped mountains. Within the sandy, rocky environment is a habitat prime for cold-blooded reptiles like snakes. There are 46 species of snake native to New Mexico, but just one is a true water snake. In this article we learn more about the only water snake, as well as a few other snakes found in the state.

Water Snakes in New Mexico

For the purposes of this article, water snakes refer only to the true water snakes, which are members of the genus Nerodia. They spend most of their life in and around a water source. Water snakes live close to bodies of water and hunt for prey in and around aquatic environments.

The one species of water snake native to New Mexico is the Plain-bellied Water Snake. There is also a subspecies of this snake, the Blotched Watersnake, that lives in the state as well. Both these water snakes prefer to live in aquatic environments. They are adept swimmers and efficient hunters. 

Plain-bellied Water Snake

Plain-bellied water snake
Plain-bellied water snake | image by Northeast Coastal & Barrier Network via Flickr | CC-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster
  • Length: 30” to 48”
  • Venomous: No

The Plain-bellied Water Snake has a dark back and sides and a light colored belly. It’s easy to tell them apart from other snakes native to New Mexico.

First, it is the only New Mexican snake with a light belly without markings. Second, its scales are keeled, not smooth. “Keeled” means that the snake’s scales have a ridge down the center of the scale. It’s similar to how a boat has a keel to keep it upright in the water.

They are more shy than aggressive, but they bite when attacked. If they escape, they swim to the bottom of the body of water. Find a Plain-bellied Water Snake in marshland, a pond, or a lake.

They are skilled swimmers that rarely leave the water. You’re most likely to see one basking on a rock or log on the water’s surface. Their diet consists of fish, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Anything they can fit in their mouths that lives near the water’s edge is a potential meal. This snake has been found in just two counties in New Mexico: Eddy and Quay counties. Because New Mexico is so dry for most of the year, most habitats don’t have sufficient water year-round to support thriving populations.

Other Types of Snakes in New Mexico

New Mexico’s dry heat and rocky cliffs make it a great environment for reptiles. Keep an eye out for any one of its 46 native snakes. If you plan to hike, hunt, or work outside, you’ll need to be vigilant. Only 8 of the 46 snakes are venomous. Most of those snakes – either rattlesnakes or coral snakes – keep to themselves.

1. Rock Rattlesnake

Rock Rattlesnake
Rock Rattlesnake
  • Scientific name: Crotalus lepidus
  • Length: 15” to 33”
  • Venomous: Yes

The Rock Rattlesnakes have many adaptations to the harsh terrain of southern New Mexico. They are tan in color with dark gray or black stripes around their sides and back. The stripes often look like zig zags.

The Rock Rattlesnake’s prey increases in size as it gets older. Young snakes eat invertebrates and insects, while older snakes hunt mice and small lizards. Some eat birds as well.

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It’s rare to see this type of rattlesnake near human infrastructure. They are shy and prefer to live in hiding places among the rocks. In New Mexico, they live in the inhospitable southwestern deserts and mountains at elevations of 4,000 to 8,500 feet.

2. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake | image by Larry Smith via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Crotalus atrox
  • Length: 15” to 30”
  • Venomous: Yes

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake varies in color but all snakes have diamond-shaped patches along its back. The patches are darker than the usual scale color. Base colors include red, gray, taupe, and rust.

Along with being the largest New Mexican rattlesnake, the Western Diamondback is the most common rattlesnake found in the state. It lives in most of New Mexico south of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Tell it apart from the 6 other rattlesnake species by way of the black and white bands on its tail.

This snake is most active at night when it hunts small rodents. Larger rattlesnakes have been known to hunt and kill rabbits. Its favorite habitats are lowlands, river bottoms, open woodlands with pine trees, and rocky outcroppings. They brumate when it gets cold in the winter.

3. Western Coral Snake

Western coral snake
Western coral snake | image by David Jahn via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific name: Micruroides euryxanthus
  • Length: 15” to 30”
  • Venomous: Yes

The Western Coral Snakes indicate their venomous nature by way of their brightly colored scales. Their bodies alternate wide rings of black and red with narrow yellow or white rings.

Their noses are black. Milk Snakes are often mistaken for Western Coral Snakes because their scale color mimics the Western Coral Snake.

This snake is usually nocturnal, but it will emerge from its underground den after rain in order to hunt and find water. Its favorite prey is other small snakes and small lizards. Only southwestern New Mexico is a home to the Western Coral Snake.

4. Checkered Garter Snake

Checkered garter snake
Checkered garter snake | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Thamnophis marcianus
  • Length: 13” to 42”
  • Venomous: No

The Checkered Garter Snakes are common nonvenomous inhabitants of New Mexico. They are dark green or tan in color with a light yellow stripe that runs from their head to their tail. They also have dark spots all over their back and sides.

This snake lives near and around water sources. They travel long distances to hunt and drink water from springs and ephemeral streams. Some of their food sources include frogs, salamanders, and worms. They live in central and southern New Mexico.

5. Desert Kingsnake

Desert kingsnake
Desert kingsnake | image by siwnaturalist via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0
  • Scientific name: Lampropeltis splendida
  • Length: 24” to 36”
  • Venomous: No

The Desert Kingsnake is a black snake with speckles of white or yellow on its sides. Its back is decorated with black saddle-shaped patches, separated with light-colored scales.

Kingsnakes are considered especially beneficial to humans because rattlesnakes make up part of their diet. The Desert Kingsnake also eat rats, mice, lizards, and birds. They live in New Mexico south of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They prefer to live in habitats with more water than not, but they will survive in desert scrub environments.