Gulf Salt Marsh Snake
Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii clarkii (BAIRD & GIRARD 1853)
* Currently accepted name
* scientific names used through time
- Regina clarkii – BAIRD & GIRARD 1853
- Tropidonotus clarkii – COPE 1861
- Natrix clarki – ALLEN 1932
- Natrix sipedon clarki – CONANT 1958
- Natrix fasciata clarki – CONANT 1975
- Nerodia clarkii clarkii – CONANT & COLLINS 1991
Average adult size is 15-20 inches (38-51 cm), record is 36 inches (91.4 cm). Adults are grayish with four dark longitudinal stripes on their body, two on each side. The belly is reddish-brown to gray with 1 or 3 rows of light spots. The scales are keeled, and there are 21-23 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The pupil is round. Juvenile coloration is similar to adults.
A. Top of the head
B. Underside of the head (chin and throat)
C. Elongated scales below the tail (subcaudal scales) are typically divided
D. Front (face view) of the head
E. Side of the head
F. Keeled scales
Range: In Florida, the Gulf Salt Marsh Snake is found along the Gulf coast from central Florida northwest to the tip of the panhandle. Outside of Florida, it is found along the Gulf coast from Florida west to southern Texas.
Habitat: Commonly found along the coast in brackish and saltwater estuaries, salt marshes, and tidal mud flats.
Comments: HARMLESS (Non-Venomous). The Gulf Salt Marsh Snake is active mainly at night, though its activity patterns may be affected by tidal patterns and seasons. Since it does not have salt glands to help it get rid of the salt it ingests from its estuarine habitat, in order to survive it must obtain freshwater, such as from rain, shifting tides, or body fluids of their prey.
It can be found hiding in tidal wrack along the shore and sometimes is seen inhabiting crab burrows in the sand or mud. It feeds on small fishes, crabs, shrimp, and other invertebrates trapped in isolated pools of water by the falling tide.
It gives birth to live young that around 7-9 inches (17.7-22.8 cm) long.
Comparison with other species: The Striped Crayfish Snake (Regina alleni) has a uniform light-colored belly. The Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata) is much thinner and has only 2 light-colored stripes on its body.
It should not happen often, but some people might confuse a Salt Marsh Snake with a venomous Cottonmouth. However, it is easy to distinguish between Cottonmouths and Salt Marsh Snakes and other Water Snakes.