Florida is a reptilian paradise, with warm, humid weather all year long. Between the climate, the vast wetlands in the Everglades, and the extensive networks of creeks, rivers, and lakes throughout the state, it’s an especially appealing place for water snakes. So in this article we’re going to learn a little about the water snakes in Florida.
Water snakes are simply snake species that prefer to live in or near the water. They’re often adapted to an aquatic or semi aquatic lifestyle, and most are non-venomous. However, many of them intentionally mimic dangerous, venomous snakes like cottonmouths, so it’s good to be able to identify them.
This article will cover 11 of the most common water snakes you might encounter in Florida. We’ll also show you a picture for each species to help you identify these guys and feel a little safer outdoors.
Having said that, let’s have a look at Florida’s water snakes!
11 types of water snakes in Florida
11 common types of water snakes in Florida are the Florida banded watersnake, the southern watersnake, the brown watersnake, the green watersnake, the black swampsnake, the cottonmouth, the glossy swampsnake, the midland watersnake, the plain-bellied watersnake, the rainbow snake, and the striped swampsnake.
1. Florida banded watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata pictiventris
Adult length: 2-4 feet
One of the most common species of watersnake in the state, the Florida banded watersnake can be found throughout Florida. It’s very similar in appearance to the cottonmouth, but it is non-venomous and harmless.
However, it can be an aggressive species, sometimes charging at people when it feels threatened. In these instances, the snake is using its similarity to the cottonmouth to its advantage. Essentially, it’s trying to make you think it’s a much more dangerous animal than it really is.
2. Southern watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata fasciata
Length: 22-36 inches
Closely related to the banded watersnake, the southern watersnake has slightly different coloration. The two are often confused with each other, and for the lay person it would probably be impossible to tell them apart. Even for experts, distinguishing between these species in the field is difficult.
They also have similar behavior, and similar habitat. There is, in fact, some disagreement about whether this is a distinct subspecies of watersnake or just a separate population of the banded watersnake.
3. Brown watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia taxispilota
Adult length: 2-5 feet
Of all the species of watersnake, this is the one that most closely resembles the cottonmouth. Like the venomous cottonmouth, the brown watersnake has a thick, heavy body and dark brown to black coloring.
It also has a distinctly narrow neck, which gives the impression of a wide head, which is a common feature of venomous species. It is, however, perfectly harmless. Like most watersnakes it prefers to live near freshwater, especially swamps and streams.
4. Green watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion
Length: 30-45 inches
These snakes have a greenish-brown coloring with no distinctive markings except some light speckling on the back. They prefer calm, shallow water with lots of vegetation like ponds and swamps.
Fish and frogs are their favorite foods. They don’t constrict their prey, but rather overpower it with their jaws and swallow it hole, and alive. Like other watersnakes, they can be easily confused for a cottonmouth.
5. Black swampsnake
Scientific name: Seminatrix pygaea
Length: 10-15 inches
These small snakes are instantly recognizable due to their deep black backs and bright red bellies. Only the red-bellied mudsnake has similar coloring, and it’s a much larger species that doesn’t share a habitat with the swampsnake.
As their name implies, they like to live in swamps, although any slow-moving, vegetation-choked water will do. Their somewhat secretive, and are rarely encountered away from the water they live in. Earthworms and leeches are favorite foods, but they’ll also eat small fish and salamanders.
Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
Length: 36-48 inches
The only venomous snake on this list, cottonmouths are one of the most infamous venomous snakes in the United States. They’re named for the bright white lining of their mouths, which they use in a threat display to scare off potential predators.
Cottonmouths have short, thick bodies with dark brown, often black backs and occasionally some banding along the back. Their heads, like most vipers, are triangular like an arrowhead. You’ll find them living around slow moving bodies of water, where they feed primarily on fish.
Cottonmouths have a reputation for being aggressive, but this is largely a myth. Like other snakes, cottonmouths want to be left alone and will usually avoid contact with humans.
To those who don’t know any better, all snakes can look alike. People tend to assume non-venomous snakes are cottonmouths or copperheads. With the copperhead in particular, it’s often confused with other snakes.
7. Glossy crayfish snake
Scientific name: Regina rigida rigida
Length: 14-24 inches
These small snakes are brown to dark brown, with yellow lips. They’re highly aquatic and almost never encountered outside of the water, except after heavy rains. They prefer to inhabit swamps, ponds, and canals.
Crayfish are their main source of food, but they’ll also eat small fish and frogs. Also known as glossy swampsnakes, glossy crayfish snakes swallow their prey alive rather than constricting it.
8. Midland watersnake
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis
Length: 22-40 inches
Midland watersnakes have distinct bands of light and dark brown coloring that make them easy to identify. It’s a much more striking color pattern than any other species of watersnake in Florida. They’re also smaller and slimmer than the other watersnakes.
In Florida, this species is only found in the western panhandle, where they prefer shallow streams with sandy bottoms. They eat amphibians and freshwater fish.
9. Plain-bellied watersnake
Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Adult length: 30-48 inches
Plain-bellied Water Snakes (aka Yellow-bellied Water Snakes) occur in the south-central and south-western areas of Tennessee, as well as the watersheds of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. These mid-sized snakes are black on top with pale yellow or brown bellies.
They prefer quiet, still or slow-moving water, and are more commonly found in lakes and swamps than in rivers. Amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders are their preferred prey, but they will occasionally eat fish as well. These are the only water snakes that, when threatened, will try to escape on land instead of diving into the water.
10. Rainbow snake
Scientific name: Farancia erytrogramma
Length: 36-48 inches
Possibly the prettiest snake in Florida, the rainbow snake is a large snake with glossy black scales that shine iridescent blue in the sunlight. Along their back and sides they have three thin red stripes, their sides are yellow or pink, and their throat and chin are yellow.
They’re restricted to northern Florida and the panhandle, where they prefer to live in clear springs and rivers. These snakes are nocturnal and have a unique diet- they eat freshwater eels almost exclusively.
11. Striped swampsnake
Scientific name: Regina alleni
Adult length: 14-20 inches
The striped swampsnake, aka striped crayfish snake, is a small, dull brown snake with three broad dark stripes. These snakes are rarely spotted out of the water. The record length is 27.8 inches, with most adults measuring less than 20 inches. They do live in swamps but they also like sawgrass prairies and cypress stands, which in Florida are both typically inundated with water.
They eat mainly crayfish and salamanders, but will feed on small fish if necessary. They’ve also been known to eat the larvae of dragonflies and damselflies.
Final notes about water snakes in Florida
Florida is also home to several species of exotic invasive snakes. Some that I would probably classify as at least semi-aquatic and therefore, water snakes. If you’re familiar with the problems that South Florida is having with exotic reptiles then you’re probably aware of the exotic snakes taking over the everglades.
There are even reports of anacondas living in the Florida Everglades. Anacondas are in the Boa family but they are water-loving snakes and in their natural habitat they live in swamps, slow moving rivers and a streams, and marshes.