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Water Snakes in Florida (14 Species With Pictures)

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 refers to a certain type of snake that prefer to live in or near the water. This is usually referring to the genus Nerodia. These snakes have adapted to an aquatic or semi aquatic lifestyle, and all are non-venomous. However, many of them mimic dangerous, venomous snakes like cottonmouths, so it’s good to be able to identify them.

T​his article will cover some of the water snakes you might encounter in Florida. We’ll also include some other semi-aquatic snake species found in Florida and show you a picture for each species to help you identify them.

Having said that, let’s have a look at Florida’s water snakes!

1. Florida banded watersnake

image by Trish Hartmann via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata pictiventris
  • Adult length: 2-4 feet
  • Venomous: no

One of the most common species of watersnake in the state, the Florida banded watersnake can be found throughout Florida. It’s actually a sub-species of the banded water snake or southern water snake. It’s similar in appearance to the cottonmouth, but it is non-venomous and harmless.

They are typically found in shallow, stagnant or slow moving water. They can even be found in water-filled ditches and retention ponds in suburban areas. 


2. Southern watersnake

Southern Water Snake | NC Wetlands
  • Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata
  • Length: 22-36 inches
  • Venomous: No

Closely related to the Florida banded watersnake, the southern watersnake or banded 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.

T​hey 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

photo by Sabrina Setaro via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia taxispilota
  • Adult length: 2-5 feet
  • Venomous: No

O​f 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.

I​t 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. Mississippi G​reen watersnake

Mississippi Green Water Snake | Greg Schechter | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion
  • Length: 30-45 inches
  • Venomous: No

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.

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5. B​lack swampsnake

Black Swamp Snake | credit: Peter Paplanus | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Seminatrix pygaea
  • Length: 10-15 inches
  • Venomous: No

These small snakes are instantly recognizable due to their deep black backs and bright red bellies. Only the red-bellied mudsnake has similar coloring, however red-bellied mudsnakes tend to be larger and have a red and black zipper-like pattern.

A​s 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.


6. Cottonmouth

*Venomous

image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren | flickr | CC 2.0
  • Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
  • Length: 36-48 inches
  • Venomous: Yes

T​he 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.


7. G​lossy crayfish snake

Glossy Crayfish Snake | credit: Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Regina rigida
  • Length: 14-24 inches
  • Venomous: No

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

image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific NameNerodia sipedon pleuralis
  • Length: 22-40 inches
  • Venomous: No

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.

I​n 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

Yellow-bellied Water Snake | Peter Paplanus | Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster
  • Adult length: 30-48 inches
  • Venomous: No

Plain-bellied Water Snakes (aka Yellow-bellied Water Snakes) occur in the panhandle. 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. 


10. Rainbow snake

Rainbow Snake | Photo by Charles Baker via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific name: Farancia erytrogramma
  • Length: 36-48 inches
  • Venomous: No

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.

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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

image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Regina alleni
  • Adult length: 14-20 inches
  • Venomous: No

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.

T​hey 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.


12. Florida green water snake

florida green water snake nerodia floridana
Florida green water snake | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia floridana
  • Adult length: 30-55 inches
  • Venomous: No

The Florida green water snake is found throughout the state of Florida and can be living in any one of the freshwater habitats that are so abundant here. It’s a large snake with a record of of over 6 feet.

This species was actually once a subspecies of Nerodia cyclopion, the Mississippi green water snake, but it was apparently decided that it needed to be its own species.


13. Saltmarsh snake

Saltmarsh snake
Saltmarsh snake | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii
  • Adult length: 15-30 inches
  • Venomous: No

Saltmarsh snakes are one of the few water snakes you can find in more coastal and saltier environments, hence the name. In Florida, they occur nearly state-wide but only along the coastlines of the state. They can be found in coastal marshes or in brackish water, and in southern Florida you can even find them in and around mangroves

There are several sub-species of the Saltmarsh snake and they can be quite variable in coloration and pattern. Typically though, saltmarsh snakes are brown or olive-green with lighter stripes that run down the length of their body. 


14. Mudsnake

Mudsnake
Mudsnake | credit: Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific name: Farancia abacura
  • Adult length: 40-54 inches
  • Venomous: No

Mudsnakes, also known as red-bellied mudsnakes are very secretive and semi-aquatic snakes found in Florida. Like the swampsnake, they are red and black however their bellies have alternating black and red bars that create a zipper-like pattern. 

They prefer areas with slow-moving or still freshwater like swamps and ponds but can also be found in brackish creeks. They are found throughout most of the state but are not known to occur in the Florida Keys. They prey on amphibians like amphiumas and sirens but are also known to hunt small fish. 


Final notes about water snakes in Florida

Florida is also home to several species of 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.