Other common names

Banded Watersnake, Florida Watersnake

Basic description

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

dark snake with tan striped head
Photo by Coleman Sheehy.

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.

Saltmarsh watersnake
Photo courtesy of Luke Smith.

Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii) Non-venomous 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.

dark snake in marsh
Photo courtesy of johnjinjohny/iNaturalist

Florida Green Watersnake (Nerodia floridana) Non-venomous Florida green watersnakes are dark green and have scales between the eye and the scales on the upper lip.

snake with blotched pattern blending with road surface
Photo courtesy of hunterewgley/iNaturalist

Midland Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) Non-venomous 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
Photo courtesy of Todd Pierson.

Brown Watersnake (Nerodia taxispilota) Non-venomous Brown watersnakes have squarish dorsal blotches along the entire body.

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 of Todd Pierson. Please credit any photographers on the page and see our copyright policy.