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The 2 Species of Water Snakes In Delaware

Delaware is known as the “First State” because it became the first of the 13th original colonies to form under the U.S. Government. Even before this, however, Delaware was home to a wide array of animals, from bobcats to opossums, and even snakes. Thankfully, Delaware has only one species of venomous snake, the Eastern copperhead, and it is not found in the water.

Collage of water snakes in Delaware

2 Water Snakes In Delaware

There are 19 species of snakes found throughout the state of Delaware, but only two of them are true water snakes. The two different species of water snakes found in Delaware are the Northern Water Snake, and the Plain-bellied Water Snake. 

1. 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

The northern water snake is found in semi-aquatic and aquatic areas, including marshes, swamps, wet meadows, streams, creeks, rivers, canals, ponds, and lakes. They are usually spotted when they are swimming or basking in the sun. Northern water snakes are found in abundance throughout the state of Delaware.


These snakes are heavy-bodied and covered in keeled scales. They measure between 24 to 55 inches long. Their body is tan to grey, light brown, or grey brown in color with a reddish brown to brown pattern. It is not uncommon for the snake’s coloring to become darker as they age.

While they are sometimes mistaken for water moccasins, these snakes are not venomous and pose no real threat to humans. Northern water snakes are not aggressive creatures, but they will bite if they feel threatened. In most cases, however, they will retreat to a nearby hole or the water, but you shouldn’t bother them or try to pick them up if you come across one.


The northern water snake mostly consumes aquatic animals that it comes across, such as fish, insects, and amphibians. But that doesn’t mean it will turn its nose up at a small mammal, such as a mouse, that it encounters while on land. With that said, however, fish are by far this species’ main food source.

Lifespan and Breeding

After coming out of their hibernation, the northern water snake will mate during March and April. Live young are born in late spring to early fall, and the female of the species can birth 12 to 36 babies at one time. Northern water snakes typically have a lifespan of only 9 years when raised in captivity. The exact lifespan for wild northern water snakes is not known.

2. 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

The plain-bellied water snake is native to Delaware and can be found throughout the state. Unfortunately, this species is endangered in Delaware and not as commonly seen as the northern water snake. When they are seen, it is usually near a permanent water source, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds.

The plain-bellied water snake is a prey animal to a wide array of other creatures found in and out of the water, including hawks, egrets, largemouth bass, and other snakes. They will release a foul-smelling odor if they feel threatened, and they will strike and bite repeatedly to defend themselves. However, they are not an aggressive animal and will first try to slither away to safety if they feel threatened.

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The plain-bellied water snake species was once split up into three different species: red-bellied water snake, yellow-bellied water snake, and blotched water snake. It wasn’t until recently that experts decided to combine these three subspecies into one signal species. Because of this, the exact coloring and markings of the plain-bellied water snake can vary greatly.

These water snakes are most active during the warmer months, and like to bask in the sunlight near bodies of water. When the weather is hot and humid, the plain-bellied water snake will travel away from water.

In fact, this species spends more time on land than other species of water snakes. They will also hibernate during the winter months, finding an abandoned animal burrow, rock pile, or stream bank to tuck away in for the cold weather.


The plain-bellied water snake’s diet consists mostly of fish, frogs, salamanders, crustaceans, and carrion. However, since they do spend time on land, it is only natural that they would eat other animals as well, such as amphibians, rodents, and other small mammals.

Lifespan and Breeding

The lifespan of the plain-bellied water snake is not known when it is in the wild, but reports state it has an average lifespan of 8 to 15 years when living in captivity. This snake species will breed in early spring to early summer, and the female plain-bellied water snake will give birth to live young from August to September.

On average, they birth about 18 young at one time. While they are usually solitary animals, the female can sometimes mate in a group that consists of just her and several other males.