Maryland is home to two types of water snakes: the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake. While there are several other snake species that can be found near or in water, these two are true water snakes. The Northern Water Snake is the most common snake in Maryland, with a wide distribution throughout the state. They are non-venomous and can reach lengths of over 55 inches. The Plain-Bellied Water Snake, on the other hand, is less commonly seen and is usually found near the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. Both snake species have their own unique appearances, behaviors, diets, and breeding patterns.
2 Types of Water Snakes in Maryland
Maryland is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including two types of water snakes: the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake. These snakes play an important role in the state’s ecosystem and have unique characteristics that set them apart from other snake species found in the area.
1. Northern Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake is one of the most common snake species found throughout Maryland. It has a large, rounded head and can grow to be between 24 and 42 inches long, with some individuals reaching lengths of over 55 inches. Its body is covered with a reddish-brown to black blotch-pattern that can form a crossband, and its belly is pink to creamy yellow with an orange-brown to reddish-brown half moon pattern. Despite its appearance, the Northern Water Snake is often mistaken for the venomous water moccasin, which is not found in Maryland.
The Northern Water Snake is a non-venomous snake and is generally not aggressive towards humans. However, if agitated or threatened, it may bite and its saliva contains an anti-coagulant, which can cause their bites to bleed more profusely than usual. These snakes are opportunistic feeders and can hunt and feed on a variety of prey, including fish, insects, salamanders, toads, frogs, crayfish, and even shrews and mice. They are active both during the day and night but tend to restrict their feeding to daylight hours when water temperatures cool during the night.
The Northern Water Snake primarily preys on fish, but it also consumes a variety of other aquatic creatures. It is an important part of the food chain, helping to control populations of small aquatic organisms.
Northern Water Snakes can be found in a wide array of aquatic habitats, including ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers. They are often seen basking on rocks near standing or slow-moving bodies of water. During the spring and fall, these snakes may be observed coiled together, basking in the sunlight. As temperatures rise, they become more solitary, often hanging out on cattail stems and overhanging branches.
Northern Water Snakes mate in late March and April, shortly after emerging from hibernation. Female Northern Water Snakes give birth to live young, usually between late August and early October. A female can give birth to anywhere between 12 to 36 babies at a time. While their lifespan in the wild is unknown, Northern Water Snakes can live up to 9 years in captivity.
2. Plain-Bellied Water Snake
The Plain-Bellied Water Snake, also known as the Red-Bellied Water Snake, is another type of water snake found in Maryland. It measures between 30 to 48 inches in length, with the longest recorded specimen measuring 62 inches. It has a black to chocolate-brown body and an orange to red belly. Unlike the Northern Water Snake, the Plain-Bellied Water Snake has a thick body and is often found on the water banks in forested areas and swamps.
The Plain-Bellied Water Snake is not as commonly seen throughout Maryland as the Northern Water Snake. It is usually only found near the lower Eastern Shore. These snakes are skilled swimmers and are capable of traveling long distances in search of food. While they are not venomous or harmful to humans, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened, flattening their head and striking repeatedly.
The diet of the Plain-Bellied Water Snake consists mainly of fish, crayfish, and various amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. While their primary food source consists of aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures, they will also consume land animals such as mice and shrews if the opportunity arises.
Plain-Bellied Water Snakes mate from April to June. They are polyandrous creatures, meaning that the female will mate with multiple males during the breeding season. Females give birth to live young from late summer to early fall, with litter sizes ranging from 5 to 27 offspring.
3. Northern Water Snake vs. Plain-Bellied Water Snake
The Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake have some similarities but also noticeable differences. Both species are non-venomous and play important roles in the Maryland ecosystem. They are adept swimmers and can be found in or near bodies of water. However, the Northern Water Snake has a more extensive range throughout the state, while the Plain-Bellied Water Snake is mainly found in the lower Eastern Shore. Additionally, their appearance and habitat preferences differ, with the Northern Water Snake having a distinct blotch-pattern and a wider array of aquatic habitats, while the Plain-Bellied Water Snake has a thicker body and prefers forested areas and swamps.
4. Similarities between Northern Water Snake and Plain-Bellied Water Snake
Despite their differences, the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake share several similarities. Both species are non-venomous and pose no direct threat to humans. They are skilled swimmers and are adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Additionally, they both play important roles in the ecosystem as predator and prey, helping to maintain a balanced food chain.
5. Differences between Northern Water Snake and Plain-Bellied Water Snake
Although the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake have some similarities, there are noticeable differences between the two species. These differences include their appearance, habitat preferences, and range within the state of Maryland. While the Northern Water Snake has a distinct blotch-pattern and can be found in various aquatic habitats throughout Maryland, the Plain-Bellied Water Snake has a thicker body, an orange to red belly, and is mainly restricted to the lower Eastern Shore.
6. Other Species of Snakes Found in Maryland
In addition to the Northern Water Snake and the Plain-Bellied Water Snake, Maryland is also home to several other species and sub-species of snakes. While these snakes may bask near or swim in water, they are not considered true water snakes. Some examples of these snakes include the Eastern Garter Snake, the Eastern Ratsnake, and the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake.
7. Habitat and Behavior of Water Snakes in Maryland
Water snakes in Maryland are adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle and can be found in or near bodies of water such as ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers. They are skilled swimmers and are often seen basking on rocks near the water’s edge. During the spring and fall, they may gather in groups to bask in the sunlight. As temperatures rise, they become more solitary and may be found on cattail stems and overhanging branches. These snakes are an important part of the Maryland ecosystem, as they help to control populations of small aquatic organisms and provide a food source for predators higher up the food chain.
8. Importance of Water Snakes in Maryland’s Ecosystem
Water snakes play a vital role in Maryland’s ecosystem. As predators, they help to control populations of small aquatic organisms, maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. They also serve as a food source for larger predators, such as birds of prey, larger snakes, and mammals. Additionally, water snakes help to maintain healthy aquatic habitats by consuming prey that could potentially disrupt the balance of the ecosystem.
12. Interactions with Water Snakes in Maryland
When encountering water snakes in Maryland, it is important to remember that they are an essential part of the state’s ecosystem and should be treated with respect. It is best to observe them from a distance and avoid any actions that may agitate or threaten them, as they may defend themselves by biting. Water snakes are not venomous and their bites are generally not harmful to humans, but they may cause bleeding due to the presence of an anti-coagulant in their saliva. If you come across a water snake in its natural habitat, take a moment to appreciate its unique beauty and important role in the ecosystem.