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3 Types of Water Snakes in Kansas (Pictures)

Kansas is home to several species of true water snakes. While all snakes are capable of swimming, not all snakes are water snakes. True water snakes are members of the genus Nerodia.

These aquatic reptiles are well-adapted to life in the water and can often be found near streams, rivers, and ponds. They play an important role in their ecosystem by feeding on fish and amphibians, helping to control the populations of these animals.

Despite their beneficial role, water snakes are sometimes feared by humans due to their close proximity to humans, leading to negative attitudes and conservation issues. Educating people on the benefits of these reptiles and protecting their habitats to ensure their survival is important. True water snakes are not venomous but are often mistaken for venomous snakes, such as Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, which are often found around or in water.

Collage of water snakes in Kansas

3 Water Snakes in Kansas

There are 3 species of true water snakes in Kansas, including the diamondback water snake, the plain-bellied water snake, and the common water snake. 

1. Diamondback Water Snake

Diamondback Water Snake
Diamondback Water Snake | k.draper | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia rhombifer

The Diamondback water snake is a species of water snake that is commonly found in Kansas. These snakes are typically gray or brown in color, with a distinctive diamond-shaped pattern along their back. They can grow up to 5 feet in length and are known for their aquatic habits, often residing near streams, rivers, and ponds.

Diamondback water snakes are active hunters, feeding mainly on fish and other aquatic prey. The females of this species have slightly shorter tails than their male counterparts but tend to grow larger.

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 a species of water snake commonly found in the southeastern region of Kansas. These snakes have a distinctive yellow or cream-colored belly, which contrasts with their dark brown or gray upper body. They can grow up to 3 feet in length and are commonly found near water sources such as streams, rivers, and ponds.

Plain-bellied water snakes are non-venomous and feed mainly on fish and amphibians. They are most active at night, spending much of the day lounging on tree branches and basking in the sun.

3. Common Water Snake

common water snake hissing
Common water snake hissing | image by icelandgull via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon

The Common water snake is a species of water snake that is commonly found in Kansas. They are generally brown or gray in color with a distinct pattern of darker crossbands or blotches along their body. The juveniles are more brightly colored than the adults.

The males have longer tails than the females, but the females grow to be larger than the males. They can grow up to 4 feet in length and are typically found near water sources such as streams, rivers, and ponds.

Common water snakes are non-venomous and feed mainly on fish and amphibians. This species is more commonly found on the western side of Kansas, though some may be spotted in a few areas in the east.

Water Snakes are Commonly Mistaken for the Cottonmouth

These commonly found water snakes in Kansas are completely harmless. They are, however, often confused with the Cottonmouth, scientifically known as Agkistrodon piscivorus. For the sake of clarification, this article will discuss the features of the cottonmouth so readers can know the difference.

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Cottonmouth

Coiled cottonmouth snake
Coiled cottonmouth snake | image by smashtonlee05 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Agkistrodon piscivorus

The Cottonmouth is a venomous snake species often found around or in water. Fortunately, this species is not commonly found in Kansas and has only been documented in the southeast corner of the state.

Cottonmouths are primarily found in the southeastern United States, near water sources such as swamps, rivers, and lakes. They are named for their distinctive white mouth that they display when threatened, which they use to intimidate potential predators.

Cottonmouths are pit vipers, so they are not true water snakes. They have a venomous bite that can be dangerous to humans and other animals.

If you encounter a cottonmouth in Kansas, it is important to give it plenty of space and not approach it, as it may perceive you as a threat. If you suspect that you have been bitten by a cottonmouth or any other venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cottonmouth and Non-Venomous Water Snakes

Differentiating between a Cottonmouth and other non-venomous water snakes can be challenging, as they can look similar in appearance and habitat. However, there are several key features that can help you tell them apart:

1. Mouth color

Cottonmouths are named for their distinctive white mouth that they display when threatened. This is a clear indication that the snake is venomous and should be treated with caution. On the other hand, non-venomous water snakes have dark mouths and do not display their mouth as a warning.

2. Body color

Cottonmouths have a dark, banded appearance, while non-venomous water snakes have lighter, patterned bodies.

3. Head shape

Cottonmouths have triangular-shaped heads, while non-venomous water snakes have narrower heads.

4. Behavior

Cottonmouths are more likely to swim with their head above the surface of the water, while non-venomous water snakes swim with their head submerged.

If you are unsure about the species of snake that you have encountered, it is always best to err on the side of caution and give the snake plenty of space. Do not attempt to handle or approach the snake, as this can be dangerous for both you and the snake.