Florida Water Snake
Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata pictiventris (COPE 1895)
* Currently accepted name
* scientific names used through time
- Coluber fasciatus – LINNAEUS 1766
- Tropidonotus fasciatus – HOLBROOK 1842
- Nerodia fasciata – BAIRD & GIRARD 1853
- Tropidonotus pogonias – DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1854 (fide WALLACH)
- Natrix fasciata fasciata – COPE 1888
- Natrix fasciata pictiventris – COPE 1895
- Natrix sipedon pictiventris – CONANT 1958
- Nerodia fasciata – CONANT 1963
- Nerodia fasciata pictiventris – CONANT & COLLINS 1991
Description: Adults average from 24-42 inches (61-106.7 cm). The record is 62.5 inches (158.8 cm). Stout bodied snake with broad black, brown, or red crossbands over most of body. 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. Crossbands may be obscured as snake darkens with age. Belly is creamy yellow with wormlike red or black markings. Scales are keeled and there are 23-27 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The pupil is round. A dark stripe extends from the eye to the angle of the jaw. Juveniles have very clear red or black crossbands on light background.
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 Florida Water Snake is found throughout the peninsula, excluding the Florida Keys. Outside the Florida, it occurs in extreme southeastern Georgia and has been introduced to Brownsville, Texas.
Habitat: The Florida Water Snake can be found in nearly all freshwater habitats, preferring the shallow waters of swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers.
Comments: HARMLESS (Non-Venomous). When threatened, the Florida Water Snake defends itself by biting and smearing its tormentor with a foul smelling musk. Active mainly at night, but may be found during the day sunning on banks or on vegetation hanging over the water. Feeds on live or dead fishes, frogs, and aquatic invertebrates. The Florida Water Snake bears live young. Mating occurs mid-winter to spring and litters of 20-30 young are born in late spring through summer. The young are 7.5-10.5 inches (19-26.6 cm) at birth.
Comparison with other species: The Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota) has squarish dorsal blotches along its entire body. The Midland Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) has 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.
Florida Water Snakes are harmless, though they have a mouth full of teeth and will bite to defend themselves. Because they are found around bodies of water, Water Snakes are often killed in the mistaken belief that they are the venomous Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus). Since Cottonmouths can easily be distinguished from Water Snakes there is no excuse for killing Water Snakes out of confusion. The Cottonmouth has a triangular shaped head and a vertical pupil. If the head is viewed from above, the eyes of Cottonmouths cannot be seen while the eyes of Water Snakes are visible; Cottonmouths have elliptical pupils and Water Snakes have round pupils; and Cottonmouths have a facial pit between the nostril and the eye, while Water Snakes do not.