Other common names
Most adult Midland Watersnakes are about 24-30 inches (60-76 cm) in total length. Adults are stout-bodied and light brown with dark brown or reddish-brown crossbands near the neck, which are often outlined in black. These crossbands change into alternating blotches further down the body. There are dark squarish markings on the sides of the body between the dorsal blotches that extend upwards from the belly. Juvenile coloration is similar to that described for adults.
Range in Florida
In Florida, Midland Watersnakes are only found in the western Panhandle, within the Choctawhatchee, Escambia, and Yellow River basins. Verified records exist only from Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties. The range may extend to other nearby areas, but there are no confirmed records from other Florida counties. If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-venomous. Midland Watersnakes are not dangerous to people or pets, but they will readily bite to defend themselves. These snakes are not aggressive and avoid direct contact with people and pets. Virtually all bites occur when the snakes are intentionally molested.
Comparison with other species
Florida Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon conanti) Venomous If the head is viewed from above, the eyes of cottonmouths cannot be seen while the eyes of watersnakes are visible. Cottonmouths have vertically elliptical (cat-like) pupils, whereas watersnakes have round pupils. Cottonmouths have a facial pit between the nostril and the eye, whereas watersnakes do not.
Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) Venomous
Southern Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) Non-venomous Southern Watersnakes have broad black, brown, or red crossbands (often bordered with black) down the back and a dark stripe that extends from the eye to the angle of the jaw.
Brown Watersnake (Nerodia taxispilota) Non-venomous Brown Watersnakes have squarish dorsal blotches along the entire body.
Most adult Midland Watersnakes are about 24-30 inches (60-76 cm) in total length, with a record length of 59 inches (150 cm). Adults are stout-bodied and light brown with fewer than 30 dark brown or reddish-brown crossbands near the neck, which are often outlined in black. These crossbands change into alternating blotches further down the body. The crossbands and blotches are separated by at least 2.5 dorsal scale rows of the lighter colored dorsal scales. There are dark squarish markings on the sides of the body between the dorsal blotches that extend upwards from the belly. The belly is yellowish and marked with two rows of reddish half-moons. The scales are strongly keeled (each scale has a prominent raised ridge), and there are 21-25 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The pupil is round. Juvenile coloration is similar to that described for adults.
In Florida, Midland Watersnakes mainly inhabit shallow streams with sandy bottoms.
When approached, Midland Watersnakes will typically flee for shelter or into the water, relying on speed and agility to avoid capture. However, if they are cornered, both juveniles and adults will strike at the attacker. If grabbed or pinned, they will typically flatten their head and body, bite the attacker, and release a foul-smelling musk from a pair of glands in the base of the tail. Nonetheless, these snakes are not aggressive, and striking is only used in defense as a last resort.
Midland Watersnakes feed primarily on amphibians and freshwater fishes. These snakes are not constrictors and overpower their prey by simply grabbing it in their jaws and quickly swallowing it alive.
In Florida, females typically give live birth to 12-30 young between July and September.
Only one subspecies is currently recognized in Florida.
- Midland Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) Midland Watersnakes are a subspecies of the common watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). They are the only subspecies of common watersnake found in Florida.
Although active mainly at night during the hot summer months, Midland Watersnakes may be found during the day sunning on banks or on vegetation hanging over the water.
Unfortunately, many watersnakes are killed every year by Florida residents who mistake them for cottonmouths. Although cottonmouths occur throughout Florida, they are not nearly as abundant as the eight species of harmless watersnakes (species in the genus Nerodia) that occur in much the same habitats. If you see a snake in or near the water, most likely it is a harmless watersnake, and it is best for everyone involved to simply leave it alone.
Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Gibbons, J.W. and M.E. Dorcas. 2004. North American Watersnakes: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma. 438 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions or feedback on this profile.
Banner photo courtesy hunterhewgley/iNaturalist/CC-BY-NC-4.0. Please credit any photographers on the page and see our copyright policy.