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5 Water Snakes in South Carolina (Pictures)

South Carolina is a state of many wonders, one of the most remarkable being its abundance of water bodies. From streams to lakes, wetlands, and estuaries, these water bodies are home to some fascinating creatures – including one that most people may not expect: snakes. Join us as we explore the world of water snakes in South Carolina and discover how these reptiles play an important role in the state’s ecosystem.

5 Water Snakes in South Carolina

There are five species of true water snakes found in South Carolina. They include the green water snake, the plain-bellied water snake, the banded water snake or the southern water snake, the common watersnake, and the brown water snake.

There are other aquatic and semi-aquatic species found in the state of South Carolina, but they aren’t actually water snakes of the Genus Nerodia. Some examples of these types of snakes are garter snakes, mud snakes, crayfish snakes, and the venomous cottonmouth.

Whether you are an avid nature lover or just curious about these slithering reptiles, this post will provide a captivating look into the fascinating world of South Carolina’s water snakes.

1. Green water snake

Green water snake
Green water snake | image by Glenn Bartolotti via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia cyclopion
  • Length: 30 – 55 inches (76–140 cm)
  • Venomous: No
  • Range: Found throughout South Carolina
  • Habitat: This species is generally found in still waters such as slow-moving streams, ponds, marshes, and swamps.
  • Diet: Fish, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, salamanders

The N. cyclopion is a heavy-bodied snake with a dark green, olive, or brown dorsal side and yellowish coloration on the anterior third of its ventral side. The rest of its underside is predominantly dark brown but with yellow or white semicircles scattered across it.

It differs from most other species of North American water snakes due to its one or more small scales under the eye, creating a ring of small plates around the eye. This distinctive feature is shared only by N. floridana.

Female green water snakes are bigger than males. They also have two more dorsal scale rows and can weigh up to 9 lbs. (4.1 kg) when fully grown. These snakes mate on land in April; the young are born in July or August and measure about 25 cm (10 in).

The ovoviviparous nature of the green water snake ensures that it can reproduce successfully in its natural habitat. The brood size can vary from 7 to 101, depending on the female’s size.

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
  • Length: 30 – 48 inches (76 – 122 cm)
  • Venomous: No
  • Range: Found throughout South Carolina
  • Habitat: In various freshwater wetlands, including streams, oxbows, ponds, marshes, swamps, and canals.
  • Diet: Includes fish, crustaceans such as crayfish, and other small aquatic creatures like salamanders and frogs. They also feed on carrion, and given that they spend a considerable amount of time on land, they consume a large number of amphibians.

The plain-bellied water snake is a large, thick-bodied snake that can be found in various colors, including gray, olive green, greenish-gray, brown, and black. The distinguishing feature of this species is its plain underside, which is usually yellowish-white in color.

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Juveniles of the species are easily identified by their distinct dorsal blotches, which are deep brown in color and separated by lateral bars. Their ground color also has a pinkish hue. The patterning begins to fade as they age, although some adults may still retain some markings.

The underbelly of this species remains unpatterned regardless of age. In fact, this is where its name comes from. These snakes are active during the warmest months of the year, where they can be found basking on logs or near bodies of water, swimming, or traveling over land before hibernating in winter.

3. Banded water snake (aka southern water snake) 

Banded water snake resting
Banded water snake resting
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia fasciata
  • Length: 24-48 inches (61-106.7 cm)
  • Venomous: No
  • Range: Coastal plain of South Carolina
  • Habitat: This species can be found in nearly all freshwater habitats, including rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, and swamps.
  • Diet: This species mainly feeds on fish, frogs, or other small aquatic animals.

The Banded water snake is a mid-sized, fairly heavy-bodied snake easily identifiable due to its variable coloration. Its ground color can range from light brown or reddish to black, with darker crossbands.

These crossbands are larger on the back than those along the sides, giving the snake a unique pattern. With age, however, this pattern can become obscured. The Banded water snake also has squarish spots along its sides and a dark stripe from the eye to the angle of the jaw.

The species is viviparous and typically births litters of 15-20 live young in late July or August.

4. Brown water snake

Brown water snake on log
Brown water snake on log | image by Kelly Verdeck via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia taxispilota
  • Length: 30-60 inches (76-152 cm)
  • Venomous: No
  • Range: Found throughout South Carolina, with the exception of mountainous regions in the extreme northwest.
  • Habitat: While these snakes have been spotted in various aquatic habitats, they are predominantly found in flowing waters such as rivers, canals, and blackwater cypress creeks.
  • Diet: They primarily feed on fish, particularly small catfish

The brown water snake is a large, fairly heavy-bodied snake that can be identified by its light to dark brown coloration, with large dark brown square blotches that run down the center of its back and in alternating rows along its sides.

Its belly is usually light, with splotches of brown and striking black crescents. Its head is noticeably wider than its neck, giving it a slightly triangular appearance, and its eyes are high up on the head, close to the tip of its nose. Females of this species tend to be much larger than males.

In addition to being excellent swimmers, the Brown Water snake can also climb trees and other vegetation to bask up to 20 feet above the water. They are non-venomous but will bite if cornered, so it is best to leave them be. During the breeding season, males can often be seen courting females, and females give birth to up to 60 live young in late summer.

5. Common water snake

Northern water snake basking
Northern water snake basking | image by via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon
  • Length: 24 to 55 inches (61-140 cm)
  • Venomous: No
  • Range: Found in the northwestern parts of South Carolina
  • Habitat: Commonly found in rivers, ponds, and lakes
  • Diet: Feeds on fish, frogs, tadpoles, other snakes, crayfish, and insects
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The common water snake comes in various colors, from brown and gray to reddish-black. Its body is long and slender, with a flattened head, dark crossbands on the neck, and square blotches elsewhere.

As it ages, its color darkens, and its pattern becomes less distinct. Some snakes may even become almost completely black.

Its belly is usually white, yellow, or gray and often has reddish or black crescents. It’s important to note that although this species looks similar to venomous cottonmouths, they are non-venomous and harmless.

To distinguish between the two snakes, pay attention to the pupils and the presence of heat-sensing pits. Common water snakes have round pupils and no heat-sensing pits, while cottonmouths have cat-like pupils with heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils.

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