Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: Northern watersnakes range in size from 24 to 55 in (61-140 cm). They are fairly dark-colored snakes and may be brown, tan or grayish. The coloration is much more vivid in young and wet specimens. Their back and sides have a series of square blotches that alternate and may merge to form bands. Their scales are keeled and the anal plate is divided. Adult females tend to be larger than adult males. This species is often confused with the venomous cottonmouth (water moccasin), but cottonmouths have bands instead of blotches and their distribution is generally restricted to the Coastal Plain.

Range and Habitat: Northern Watersnakes are found throughout eastern and central North America. In our region, they are restricted to the Piedmont and mountains. They inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats including lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and streams.

Habits: Northern watersnakes are live-bearers and breed April – June. They primarily feed on amphibians and fish and are often seen basking on banks of rivers or ponds or on branches overhanging the water.

Conservation Status: Northern watersnakes are abundant in our region and are not protected throughout most of it. They are protected throughout the state of Georgia.

Pertinent References:

Himes, John G. 2004. The non-fish, vertebrate diet of sympatric populations of the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). Herpetological Review 2004 June; 35(2): 123-128.

Account Author: Andy Howington, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson