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2 Types of Water Snakes in Maryland

Maryland is home to over 100 lakes, hundreds of miles of rivers, and countless ponds, swamps, and other bodies of water, all of which make wonderful homes for water snakes. While this state is home to about 27 different species and sub-species of snakes, only two of them are true water snakes.

Collage of water snakes in Maryland

2 Water Snakes In Maryland

The two water snakes in Maryland are the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake. While there are several other different types of snakes found in Maryland that bask near or swim in water, only those two species are true water snakes.

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 one of the most common snakes found throughout the entire state of Maryland. They thrive in and around ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers. Northern water snakes average between 24 to 42 inches, but the longest recorded northern water snake measured at a little over 55 inches.

Appearance

Northern water snakes have a large rounded head and can sometimes be misidentified as water moccasins, which are not found in Maryland. Their body is covered with a reddish brown to black blotch-pattern that can form a crossband. Their bellies are pink to creamy yellow with an orange-brown to reddish brown half moon pattern.

Behavior

This non-venomous snake isn’t aggressive, but can bite if you bother it or it feels threatened. The saliva of the northern water snake contains an anti-coagulant, which will cause their bites to bleed much more profusely than normal.

The northern water snake can feed no matter what time of day or night it is, but when the water temperatures start to cool during the night, the snake usually restricts its feeding to the warmer daylight hours.

Diet

It usually preys on fish, but can also consume insects, salamanders, toads, frogs, and crayfish. While not nearly as common, the northern water snake has also been known to feed on shrews and mice.

Habitat

The northern water snake can be found in a wide array of aquatic habitats, and you may even see these snakes basking on the rocks near standing or slow-moving bodies of water. They are social creatures that have been seen coiled together during the spring and fall, basking in the sunlight. As the weather starts getting hotter, the northern water snake becomes more of a solitary animal, hanging out on cattail stems and overhanging branches.

Breeding

This species of water snake will mate in late March and April when they come out of their hibernation. Female northern water snakes typically give birth to live young from late August to early October. They can give birth to between 12 to 36 babies at a time. Their lifespan in the wild isn’t known, but when in captivity, these snakes typically live up to 9 years.

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
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Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster

You may know this water snake by its former name, the Red-bellied water snake. The species now known as the plain-bellied water snake was originally split into three subspecies. These subspecies were the red-bellied water snake, blotched water shake, and yellow-bellied water snake.

Experts decided to combine the three species into one single species, known as the plain-bellied water snake. This species now encompasses the red-bellied, blotched, and yellow-bellied water snakes.

Appearance

The plain-bellied water snake found in Maryland measures, on average, between 30 to 48 inches long. The longest recorded plain-bellied water snake was 62 inches long.

It has a black to chocolate brown-colored body and an orange to red belly. This water snake has a thick body and is found on the water banks in forested areas, as well as in swamps.

Range

The plain-bellied water snake isn’t as commonly seen throughout the state of Maryland as the Northern water snake, and is usually only seen near the lower Eastern Shore. The plain-bellied water snakes typically hunt when they are in water, and these amazing swimmers will travel long distances if needed to get food.

While they are not venomous or harmful to humans, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. During an attack, they will flatten their head and strike repeatedly.

Diet

The plain-bellied water snake mainly feeds on fish, crayfish, and various amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. While their food source typically consists of aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures that they can find near their home, they won’t turn down a land animal, such as mice, shrews, and other small mammals, if they come across it.

Breeding

The plain-bellied water snake breeds during the months of April to June. They are polyandrous creatures, which means the female will mate with multiple males of the species during the breeding season.

The female plain-bellied water snake typically gives birth during late summer to early fall. They birth live young, not eggs, and can have between 5 to 27 young at one time.