7 Water Snakes Found in Louisiana

Louisiana is home to a diverse range of water snakes, and in this article, Wildlife Informer introduces readers to the 7 water snake species found in the state. With its favorable environment of coastal marshlands and swamps, Louisiana provides the ideal habitat for these heat-loving creatures. From the Gulf Salt Marsh snake to the Midland Water snake, each species has its unique characteristics and behaviors that make them fascinating to learn about. Whether it’s the preferred hunting grounds of the Mississippi Green Water snake or the distinctive patterns of the Diamond-backed Water snake, exploring the world of water snakes in Louisiana is sure to captivate any nature enthusiast.

7 Water Snakes in Louisiana

Louisiana is well-known for its vast and diverse wildlife, including a wide variety of reptiles. One group of reptiles that thrives in Louisiana’s unique ecosystem is water snakes. With their ability to adapt and survive in aquatic habitats, these snakes are fascinating creatures to learn about. In this article, we will explore the 7 water snakes found in Louisiana: the Gulf Salt Marsh Snake, Mississippi Green Water Snake, Plain-bellied Water Snake, Southern Water Snake, Diamond-backed Water Snake, Brown Water Snake, and Midland Water Snake.

Gulf Salt Marsh Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii

The Gulf Salt Marsh snake, scientifically known as Nerodia clarkii, is a species of water snake that can be found exclusively in Louisiana coastal parishes. These snakes typically grow between 15 to 30 inches long when mature. They have a distinctive appearance with three black or dark brown stripes running along their light brown or pale gray bodies.

Habitat and Distribution

As their name suggests, Gulf Salt Marsh snakes inhabit the brackish marshes and the northern area of Lake Pontchartrain. They thrive in these coastal habitats as they provide an abundance of food sources and water. The Gulf Salt Marsh snake is well-adapted to its environment and can often be found hiding in marsh grass, waiting to ambush fish and small crabs that swim by.

Physical Characteristics

The Gulf Salt Marsh snake has a slender body and a relatively small head. Its coloration helps it blend in with its surroundings, making it difficult to spot. As nonvenomous snakes, they pose no threat to humans and are generally docile creatures.

Diet and Behavior

Being primarily aquatic, Gulf Salt Marsh snakes have a diet consisting mainly of small crabs and fish. They rely on their ability to hide and ambush their prey, using the marsh grass as cover. Their behavior is typically shy and elusive, making sightings of Gulf Salt Marsh snakes relatively rare.

Conservation Status

While the Gulf Salt Marsh snake might not be commonly encountered, it is not considered to be at risk of being endangered. Its population remains stable within its limited range in the Louisiana coastal parishes.

Mississippi Green Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion

The Mississippi Green Water Snake, also known as Nerodia cyclopion, is another fascinating species of water snake found in Louisiana. They can be commonly seen in the southern part of the state and the Mississippi/Ouachita River valleys.

Habitat and Distribution

These water snakes have a preference for marshes and cypress lakes that offer an ample supply of aquatic vegetation for hiding and prey. Their distribution extends beyond Louisiana, encompassing the southern regions of the state and the Mississippi/Ouachita River valleys.

Physical Characteristics

With an adult length ranging from 29 to 41 inches, the Mississippi Green Water Snake is relatively large compared to other water snake species. While their top is mostly brown, their underbelly has a greenish or yellowish-brown hue. This coloration helps them blend in with the vegetation in their habitat.

Diet and Behavior

The Mississippi Green Water Snake is primarily diurnal, meaning it is active during the day. Like other water snakes, they enjoy sunning themselves on large logs or rocks. At night, they venture out to hunt for food, which mainly consists of fish and small reptiles found in their aquatic habitats.

Plain-bellied Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster

The Plain-bellied Water Snake, scientifically known as Nerodia erythrogaster, is a broad-bodied snake that can be found in various southeastern states, including Louisiana.

Habitat and Distribution

These snakes are well-adapted to wetland environments, and they can be found in natural wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other permanent bodies of water. Their distribution covers several southeastern states, including Florida, eastern North Carolina, and Texas.

Physical Characteristics

The Plain-bellied Water Snake exhibits a range of colors, including black, gray, brown, or greenish-gray. However, what sets them apart from other water snakes is their unmarked yellow or red belly. This distinct feature makes them relatively easy to identify.

Diet and Behavior

Plain-bellied Water Snakes have a diverse diet that includes fish, amphibians, and invertebrates found in their habitat. When threatened, they have a defensive mechanism where they bite and release a foul smell from glands located below their heads. Unlike other water snakes, they may choose to escape on land instead of remaining in the water when faced with danger.

Southern Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia fasciata

The Southern Water Snake, known scientifically as Nerodia fasciata, is a common water snake found throughout Louisiana.

Habitat and Distribution

These snakes can be found in various regions of Louisiana, with a preference for brackish swamps. Their range extends beyond Louisiana, covering other southeastern states as well.

Physical Characteristics

The Southern Water Snake grows to a length of about 34 inches on average. They have bright orange and red colors on their bodies, which often leads to confusion with venomous copperheads or cottonmouths. However, it’s important to note that not all Southern Water Snakes resemble these venomous snakes, as their markings and colorings can vary greatly.

Diet and Behavior

Like other species of water snakes, the Southern Water Snake relies on a particular organ called the vomeronasal organ to detect prey. They use this organ to “smell” the protein molecules that indicate the presence of animal flesh. These snakes have a diet that mainly consists of fish and other small aquatic organisms.

Similarity to Venomous Snakes

Due to their vivid colors and patterns, Southern Water Snakes are often mistaken for venomous snakes, such as copperheads or cottonmouths. It’s important for people to be able to distinguish these harmless water snakes from the venomous ones to avoid unnecessary fear or harm.

Diamond-backed Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia rhombifer

The Diamond-backed Water Snake, scientifically known as Nerodia rhombifer, is a nonvenomous water snake that can be found primarily along the Mississippi River valley.

Habitat and Distribution

These snakes have a habitat range that includes the Mississippi River valley and stretches across several central U.S. states, including Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, and Indiana.

Physical Characteristics

The Diamond-backed Water Snake has a distinct appearance, with its dark green or dark brown body featuring a pattern of black lines that create diamond shapes along its back. The belly of this snake is tan or yellow, with random splotches of black from its neck to its tail.

Diet and Feeding Habits

When hunting for fish, the Diamond-backed Water Snake displays an interesting feeding behavior. It wraps its body around a low-hanging branch over the water and periodically dips its head into the water to catch its prey. Although their bite is not venomous, it can be quite painful due to their razor-sharp teeth.

Brown Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia taxispilota

The Brown Water Snake, scientifically known as Nerodia taxispilota, is a nonvenomous species of water snake found in Louisiana and other southeastern states.

Habitat and Distribution

These snakes prefer streams and swamps as their habitat. They are often mistaken for the venomous Water Moccasin, also known as the Cottonmouth, due to their similar appearance.

Physical Characteristics

Brown Water Snakes have distinctive square-shaped mottling running down their backs, which can be brown or black in color. Their bellies are yellow and marked with brown or black spots. These snakes are relatively large, growing up to three feet long, and have an unusually narrow neck compared to the size of their heads.

Similarity to Water Moccasin

The Brown Water Snake’s resemblance to the Water Moccasin can be misleading and often leads to misidentification. Both species share similar habitats and have thick, intimidating bodies. However, it’s important to remember that the Brown Water Snake is not venomous and poses no threat to humans.

Midland Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis

The Midland Water Snake, scientifically known as Nerodia sipedon pleuralis, is a nonvenomous subspecies of the Northern Water Snake. It can be found in various regions of the southern and central United States, including southeastern Mississippi and Louisiana.

Habitat and Distribution

These water snakes inhabit a range of environments, including rivers, streams, and lakes, with a preference for slow-moving bodies of water. Their distribution extends throughout several southern and central U.S. states.

Physical Characteristics

Adult Midland Water Snakes have a light brown or beige-colored body with dark red crossbands close to the neck. These snakes grow to varying lengths, with adults typically measuring around 2 to 4 feet.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Midland Water Snakes primarily feed on fish, but juveniles also consume salamanders, frogs, and small fish. They use their strong jaws and rear-facing teeth to grasp and swallow their prey.

Conservation Status

In terms of conservation, the Midland Water Snake is not considered to be at risk. Their populations remain stable within their wide distribution range.

Learning about the different water snakes found in Louisiana provides valuable insights into the diverse and unique ecosystem of the state. While some resemble venomous snakes, it’s crucial to understand that these water snakes are harmless and play an important role in maintaining the balance of their respective habitats.

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