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7 Species of Water Snakes Found in Kentucky

True water snakes are commonly found near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and swamps. These snakes have several physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to live and hunt in and around water. They play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling the populations of their prey, which mainly consist of fish and frogs.

Kentucky has several species of true water snakes, each with unique characteristics and patterns. Water snakes are known to be proficient climbers and can often be found resting on tree branches above bodies of water. When they are disturbed, they will quickly drop back into the water as a defense mechanism.

These snakes tend to be solitary animals and are active mainly during the day, although they may occasionally hunt at night. There are ten species of true water snakes belonging to the genus Nerodia.

Photo collage water snakes in kentucky

7 Water Snakes in Kentucky

There are 7 species of water snakes in Kentucky, including the Northern water snake, midland water snake, Broad-banded water snake, yellowbelly water snake, copperbelly water snake, Mississippi green water snake, and the diamondback 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

Northern water snakes are one of the most common species of water snakes found in Kentucky. They are typically found near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and swamps, and are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle. These snakes have a dark brown or grayish-brown coloration with darker bands or blotches running along their bodies, which helps them blend in with their environment.

This species is typically between 3 and 4 feet in length. Northern water snakes are non-venomous and feed primarily on fish and amphibians, which they catch using their sharp teeth and strong coils. They are highly adaptable snakes and can tolerate a wide range of habitats, making them a common sight in many parts of Kentucky.

2. Midland Water Snake

Midland water snake
Midland water snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis

Midland water snakes are a subspecies of the northern water snake native to Kentucky. They are typically found near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and swamps, and are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle. Midland water snakes are similar in appearance to northern water snakes and have a dark brown or grayish-brown coloration with darker bands or blotches running along their bodies.

They are non-venomous and feed primarily on fish and amphibians, which they catch using their sharp teeth and strong coils. These snakes are generally shy and retreat into the water if they feel threatened.

3. Broad-Banded Water Snake

Broad-banded Water Snake
Broad-banded Water Snake | Melissa McMasters | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia fasciata

Broad-banded water snakes are a type of water snake found in Kentucky. They are commonly found near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and swamps and are known for their semi-aquatic habits. These snakes have a distinctive look, with a brown or olive-green color and dark bands or blotches along their bodies.

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Adult broad-banded water snakes reach lengths of between 2 and 3 feet. Despite being non-venomous, they are equipped with sharp teeth and strong coils to catch and hold onto their prey, mainly consisting of fish and amphibians. Broad-banded water snakes have a versatile nature and can adapt to various habitats, which makes them a common sight across many regions of Kentucky.

4. Yellowbelly Water Snake

Yellowbelly water snake resting
Yellowbelly water snake resting | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster

Yellowbelly water snakes are one of two subspecies of the plain-bellied water snake that call Kentucky home. Yellow-bellied water snakes have a distinctive appearance, with a dark brown or black coloration on their backs and a bright yellow belly. The juvenile yellowbelly water snakes lack the colorful pattern on the belly.

As adults, they reach lengths of about three feet. They feed mainly on fish and amphibians and use their sharp teeth and strong coils to capture and hold onto their prey.

5. Copperbelly Water Snake

Copperbelly water snake
Copperbelly water snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta

Copperbelly water snakes are another subspecies of the plain-bellied water snake found in Kentucky. Like their yellow-bellied counterparts, copperbelly water snakes are typically found near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and swamps. Copperbelly water snakes have a distinctive appearance, with a dark brown or black coloration on their backs and a bright copper-colored belly.

The juveniles look very similar to adults but do not have brightly colored bellies. These snakes grow to be an average of three feet as adults. Copperbelly water snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians and use their sharp teeth and strong body to capture and retain their prey.

6. Mississippi Green Water Snake

Mississippi Green Water Snake
Mississippi Green Water Snake | Greg Schechter | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nerodia cyclopion

Mississippi green water snakes are non-venomous water snakes found in the western part of Kentucky in the wetlands around the Mississippi River.  Mississippi green water snakes are characterized by their bright green coloration and are one of the few species of green snakes in the United States.

This species is typically around 2.5 to 3 feet in length. They feed mainly on fish and amphibians and use their sharp teeth and strong coils to capture and hold onto their prey.

7. Diamondback Water Snake

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

Scientific Name: Nerodia rhombifer

Diamondback water snakes are a species of non-venomous water snakes found in Kentucky. These snakes are typically found near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and swamps, and are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle.

Diamondback water snakes have a distinctive appearance, with a dark brown or black coloration and diamond-shaped markings that run along their backs. On average, adult diamondback water snakes are around three feet long. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of prey, including fish, amphibians, and small mammals.