Other common names
Banded Watersnake, Florida Watersnake
Most adult southern watersnakes are about 22-42 inches (56-107 cm) in total length. These are stout-bodied snakes with broad black, brown, or red crossbands (often bordered with black) down the back. The lighter narrower bands are tan, gray, or reddish. The light bands may be broken by a black strip down the middle of the back. The crossbands may be obscured as the snake darkens with age, and older individuals may become uniformly black. The background color may be gray, yellow, tan, or reddish. A dark stripe extends from the eye to the angle of the jaw. The coloration of juveniles is similar to that described for adults.
Range in Florida
Southern watersnakes are found throughout mainland Florida in every county. However, they are absent from the Florida Keys.
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-venomous. Southern 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) 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.
Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii) Saltmarsh waternsnakes often have several dark stripes running down the entire or partial length of the body, and they are usually only found along the coast in saltwater and brackish habitats.
Florida Green Watersnake (Nerodia floridana) Florida green watersnakes are dark green and have scales between the eye and the scales on the upper lip.
Midland Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) Midland watersnakes have fewer than 30 darker brown crossbands near the neck, which break up into alternating blotches further down the body, and the belly is yellowish marked with two rows of half-moons.
Brown Watersnake (Nerodia taxispilota) Brown watersnakes have squarish dorsal blotches along the entire body.
Most adult southern watersnakes are about 22-42 inches (56-107 cm) in total length, with a record length of 62.5 inches (158.8 cm). These are stout-bodied snakes with broad black, brown, or red crossbands (often bordered with black) down the back. The lighter narrower bands are tan, gray, or reddish and may contain a dark spot on the side. The light bands may be broken by a black strip down the middle of the back. The crossbands may be obscured as the snake darkens with age, and older individuals may become uniformly black. The background color may be gray, yellow, tan, or reddish. The belly is light with squarish spots or creamy yellow with wormlike red or black markings. 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. A dark stripe extends from the eye to the angle of the jaw. The tongue is red with a black tip. Juveniles have very clear crossbands (usually black) on a pale background, but otherwise their coloration is similar to that described for adults.
In Florida, southern watersnakes can be found in generally any areas near shallow bodies of freshwater, such as ponds, swamps, marshes, and ditches. Adults and juveniles of this species are often found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
When approached, southern 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 and rapidly vibrate the tip of the tail, which produces a buzzing sound in leaf litter. 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.
Southern watersnakes are typically nocturnal (active at night) and feed primarily on frogs and freshwater fishes. Southern watersnakes 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 6-83 young between July and September.
- Banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata fasciata) In Florida, banded watersnake are found west and north of the Suwannee River and throughout the Panhandle.
- Florida watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) Florida watersnakes are found throughout the peninsula south and east of the Suwannee River, excluding the Florida Keys.
Although active mainly at night, southern 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.
County data coming soon.
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.
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