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19 Species of Water Snakes in North America

The genus Nerodia, known as water snakes, inhabits various locations throughout North America, including rivers, streams, swamps, and marshes, due to their semi-aquatic nature. These snakes can range from medium to large in size, with some species growing up to five feet or longer. They possess broad, flat heads and keeled scales that give them a rough texture, and their backs exhibit dark, blotchy patterns of varying colors depending on the species and location.

Water snakes are carnivorous predators that mainly feed on fish, frogs, and other small aquatic creatures. Although they are not venomous, they can be aggressive and will fiercely protect themselves when threatened. Despite this aggressive reputation, water snakes play an essential role in the ecosystem as they help to maintain balance in the population of their prey species.

19 Species of Water Snakes

Water snakes are a diverse group of aquatic reptiles found in bodies of water throughout the United States. Here are the different types of water snakes living in North America. 

1. Common Water Snake

Photo by ALAN SCHMIERER via Flickr | Public Domain

Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon

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.

There are 2 subspecies of Nerodia sipedon not shown on this list, N. s. williamengelsi,  N. s. insularum

2. 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 s. sipedon (subspecies)

Northern Waters Snakes are very dark in color. They are often tan, gray, or brown with series of square blotches that may ultimately merge into bands. Their coloring changes from land to water as they appear more uniform in color on land. They are often confused with the water moccasin because of their similar appearance. However, they are not venomous.

Northern water snakes prefer to live in and around lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and streams. They prey on various types of fish and amphibians living in these locations. This subspecies of N. sipedon is primarily found in the northeastern United States.

3. Midland Water Snake

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

Scientific name: Nerodia s. pleuralis (subspecies)

Midland watersnakes, characterized by their distinctive bands of light and dark brown hues, are easily identifiable due to their uniquely striking coloration compared to other watersnake species in the United States. They also stand out due to their relatively smaller size and slender form.

In terms of geographical distribution across the United States, the Midland watersnake isn’t limited to any specific region but is spread throughout various habitats. They particularly favor shallow streams with sandy beds across their range.

Their diet is primarily composed of amphibians and freshwater fish, demonstrating their predilection for aquatic prey.

4. Banded Water Snake

Banded water snake
Banded water snake

Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata

The southern watersnake, aka banded water snake, has slightly different coloration that others that we’ve seen. They are often confused for venomous snakes, the same as other water snakes.

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.

This population range of this water snake hugs the coastline from North Carolina, down to Florida, and then on around the Gulf to Texas.

5. Broad-Banded Water Snake

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

Scientific name: Nerodia f. confluens (subspecies)

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One of three recognized subspecies of the Southern Water Snake, Nerodia fasciata, the Broad-banded Water Snake occurs from Texas to North Carolina according to this range map.

They are one of the smaller water snakes, only reaching about 2 or 3 feet in length. The large, irregular-shaped bands on their back are typically reddish-brown or black separated by gray or yellow making them quite unique. Though unfortunately like other water snakes they are still commonly mistaken for Water Moccasins and needlessly killed.

They are non-venomous, though like other water snakes Broad-banded Water Snakes can emit a strong smelling musk from the base of their tail. They will also defend themselves fiercely if they feel threatened by you.

6. Florida Banded Water Snake

Florida banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) | image by Trish Hartmann via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Nerodia f. pictiventris (subspecies)

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

However, it can be an aggressive species, sometimes charging at people when it feels threatened. In these instances, the snake is using its similarity to the cottonmouth to its advantage. Essentially, it’s trying to make you think it’s a much more dangerous animal than it really is.

7. 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

Plain-bellied Water Snakes (sometimes called Yellow-bellied Water Snakes) are mid-sized snakes are black on top with pale yellow or brown bellies. The Nerodia erythrogaster species typically inhabit serene, undisturbed, or lightly flowing aquatic environments, showing a tendency to favor locations like marshes and lakes over fast-moving rivers.

Their feeding habits primarily revolve around amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders, but they will supplement their diet with fish on occasion. There’s a total of 6 recognized subspecies under erythrogaster. The 2 not mentioned here are the Bogert’s water snake and the blotched water snake.

8. Copperbelly Water Snake

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

Scientific name: Nerodia e. neglecta (subspecies)

This snake is black in color with a bright orange-red belly. The Copperbelly Watersnake, or Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta, is a species primarily found in the Midwest regions of the United States. Its populations are usually dispersed and isolated from each other.

This species has been documented in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Michigan. The typical habitat for the Copperbelly Watersnake includes wetland areas surrounded by forests.

However, it should be noted that these habitats and ranges can change over time due to a variety of factors, including climate change, urban development, and conservation efforts. For the most accurate and current information, it’s recommended to refer to reliable sources.

Copperbelly water snakes mostly feed off of frogs and tadpoles. Copperbelly Water Snakes prefer to live underground during the winter months and will come up to hunt for prey in the summer months.

9. Redbelly Water Snake

Red-bellied water snake slithering
Red-bellied water snake slithering | image by Ryan Somma via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Nerodia e. erythrogaster (subspecies)

In comparison to the plain-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta), the redbelly water snake (aka red-bellied water snake) has a distinct red or orange belly, while the plain-bellied water snake has a lighter-colored, plain belly. Both species are similar in size, with adult snakes ranging from 2 to 3.5 feet in length.

The plain-bellied water snake is primarily found in the southeastern United States, from Louisiana to North Carolina, while the redbelly water snake is found in the same region, but with a slightly wider range that extends further westward into Texas.

While both species are similar in appearance and behavior, the difference in belly coloration is the most notable distinguishing factor between them. Additionally, the subspecies Nerodia e. flavigaster (yellowbelly water snake) is sometimes mistaken for Nerodia e. erythrogaster due to its similar belly coloration, but can be differentiated by its different range and subtle differences in head and scale patterns.

10. Yellow-Bellied Water Snake

Yellow-bellied Water Snake
Yellow-bellied Water Snake | Peter Paplanus | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Nerodia e. flavigaster (subspecies)

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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. These are the only water snakes that, when threatened, will try to escape on land instead of diving into the water.

The Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster, also known as the Yellow-bellied Watersnake, can be found throughout the southeastern United States. Its range extends from Virginia and North Carolina in the east, through Kentucky and Tennessee, to as far west as Oklahoma and Texas. 

11. Diamondback Water Snake

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

Scientific name: Nerodia rhombifer

Diamondback Water Snakes, recognizable by the distinct diamond pattern on their backs, are among the largest water snake species across the United States. Adults of this species can grow to impressive sizes, often exceeding 5 feet in length. They typically feature a predominantly dark coloration, though some may showcase a yellowish belly. 

The Diamondback Water Snake is common in much of the Southeastern United States. According to this Diamondback Water Snake range map, they are mainly found in Eastern, Western, and parts of Northern Missouri. Diamondback Water Snakes seem to be less common in Central Missouri. So they aren’t found in the Ozarks.

There are 3 subspecies of diamondback water snakes including Nerodia r. rhombifer (northern diamondback water snake), Nerodia r. blanchardi, and Nerodia r. werleri. 

12. Brown Water Snake

Brown water snake
Brown water snake | photo by Sabrina Setaro via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Nerodia taxispilota

The Brown Water Snake is a non-venomous species of water snake that can be found in the southeast from Florida north to Virginia. These snakes are usually light to dark brown in color and have distinctive markings, such as bold bands or blotches along their bodies. On average, this species measures between 30 and 55 inches.

They feed primarily on fish and amphibians but will also consume other small aquatic prey if available. Brown water snakes are highly aquatic and are often found near water, such as rivers, lakes, and marshes in the southeastern part of Alabama. They are strong swimmers and are well-adapted to life in the water.

13. Mississippi Green Water Snake

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

Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion

These guys are mostly greenish-brown in color with yellow half-moon shaped markings on their backs. Mostly due to habitat loss, they have an endangered status in Missouri.

The Mississippi Green Water Snake (Nerodia cyclopion) has a specific geographic range within the southeastern United States. It’s known to inhabit a selection of states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Despite its name, the distribution of this species extends beyond the borders of Mississippi, showcasing the adaptability of this water snake to various environments within this region. As with any species, it’s important to note that these geographical ranges can vary over time due to environmental changes and human influences.

The Mississippi Green Water Snake prefers living in swamps where it feeds on frogs, fish, salamanders, crayfish, and other swamp life.

14. 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

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.

15. Salt Marsh Water Snake

Salt marsh snake slithering
Salt marsh snake slithering | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii

The salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata) is a non-venomous species of snake found in coastal regions of the southeastern United States, from North Carolina to Texas. These snakes have a slender body and can grow up to 3 feet long, with a distinctive light stripe down the middle of their back and darker stripes on either side. They are well-adapted to their salt marsh habitats and are excellent swimmers, able to move quickly through the water in search of prey such as fish and crustaceans.

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There are three recognized subspecies of the salt marsh snake: the Gulf salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii), the Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata), and the Mangrove salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda).

The Gulf salt marsh snake is found in coastal areas from Texas to Florida, while the Atlantic salt marsh snake is found from Florida to Virginia. The Mangrove salt marsh snake is found in the mangroves of southern Louisiana.

16. Gulf Salt Marsh Snake

Gulf salt marsh snake
Gulf salt marsh snake | image by Glenn Bartolotti via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific name: Nerodia c. clarkii (subspecies)

The Gulf Saltmarsh Snake is a non-venomous species of snake and is found in salt marshes and other coastal habitats along the Gulf of Mexico, where they feed primarily on small fish and other aquatic prey.

Gulf Saltmarsh Snakes are slender, brown, or gray in color and have distinctive light-colored stripes along the sides of their bodies. They grow to be an average of 30 inches in length and are well-adapted to life in salt marshes and other coastal habitats.

17. Brazos Water Snake

source: texas.gov
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia harteri
  • Length: 16 — 32 in
  • Venomous: No

Brazos Water Snakes are completely native to only Central Texas, and they are typically only found in the Brazos River System. These types of unique snakes prefer living in the rocky areas right next to the Brazos River. As these snakes are only located in one specific area in Texas, they are considered to be a near-threatened species in Texas.

Not too much is known about these snakes, compared to other reptiles in the area. However, they are mostly aquatic snakes, though they can live on land near water easily. They live off of fish and frogs and are commonly active in the day.

You can learn more about the Brazos water snake here.

18. Concho Water Snake

source: texas.gov via N. Scott
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia paucimaculata
  • Length: 16 — 32 in
  • Venomous: No

The Concho Water Snake is also another snake completely native to Texas! These snakes are only found in west-central Texas in the Colorado and Concho river systems. Because they are only native to this specific area, these snakes are considered to be a threatened species.

Concho Water Snakes aren’t any different from other forms of water snakes. They are mostly aquatic and they prefer living near permanent bodies of water, only the Colorado and Concho river systems.

These snakes are mainly active during the day. Their preferred habitat is along the fast-flowing water upon rocks or rocky cliffs that are incredibly close to the water. However, they can also be found on the shorelines or among the vegetation of ponds.

19. Lake Erie watersnake

Lake erie watersnake
Lake erie watersnake | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon insularum (subspecies)
  • Length: 23 — 35 in
  • Venomous: No

The Lake Erie Water Snake is a nonvenomous snake found in Western Lake Erie and the mainland of Ottawa County, Ohio. It is a subspecies of the common water snake and is characterized by its large, heavy body, and uniform gray coloration, which is often greenish or brownish.

Unlike its close relative, the Northern Water Snake, the Lake Erie Water Snake has greatly reduced or completely lacking dark markings. These snakes are typically found along rocky or limestone/dolomite shorelines and ledges, where they can bask in the sun and seek shelter in loose or piled rocks, or shelves and ledges with cracks and crevices.