In the desert state of New Mexico, there is a wide variety of snakes that thrive in its sandy and rocky terrain. While there are 46 species of snake native to New Mexico, only one is a true water snake. The Plain-bellied Water Snake, along with its subspecies the Blotched Watersnake, are skilled swimmers and can be found near bodies of water in the state. However, due to the arid climate of New Mexico, water sources are often limited, making it difficult for water snakes to establish thriving populations. Aside from water snakes, New Mexico is also home to other fascinating snakes, such as the Rock Rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Western Coral Snake, Checkered Garter Snake, and Desert Kingsnake. Whether venomous or nonvenomous, these snakes play important roles in their respective ecosystems and add to the biodiversity of this diverse state.
Water Snakes in New Mexico
New Mexico, despite being a desert state, is home to a variety of reptiles, including snakes. Among the 46 species of snakes native to this region, there is only one true water snake. In this article, we will explore more about the water snakes in New Mexico, particularly the Plain-bellied Water Snake and its subspecies, the Blotched Watersnake.
True Water Snakes in New Mexico
Water snakes, specifically the genus Nerodia, refer to snakes that spend most of their lives in and around water sources. They are adept swimmers and skilled hunters, often found near bodies of water, hunting for prey in aquatic environments. In New Mexico, there is only one species of water snake – the Plain-bellied Water Snake. Additionally, there is a subspecies of this snake, the Blotched Watersnake, found in the state as well.
The Plain-bellied Water Snake
The Plain-bellied Water Snake is easily distinguishable from other snakes native to New Mexico. It has a dark back and sides, with a light-colored belly. What sets it apart from other snakes is its light belly without any markings and keeled scales. Keeled scales have a ridge down the center, similar to a boat’s keel. Despite being more shy than aggressive, these snakes will bite when attacked. If threatened, they will escape by swimming to the bottom of the water.
These water snakes can be found in marshlands, ponds, or lakes. They are skilled swimmers and rarely leave the water. The Plain-bellied Water Snake primarily feeds on fish, amphibians, and invertebrates. It often basks on rocks or logs on the water’s surface and preys on anything that lives near the water’s edge and can fit into its mouth. However, due to the scarcity of water year-round in most habitats in New Mexico, these snakes are limited to Eddy and Quay counties.
The Blotched Watersnake, a subspecies of the Plain-bellied Water Snake, also lives in New Mexico. It shares many characteristics with its counterpart but has distinct blotches on its back, giving it its name. These blotches can vary in size and coloration. They also prefer aquatic environments, displaying similar behavior and diet as the Plain-bellied Water Snake.
Other Types of Snakes in New Mexico
While water snakes are a fascinating part of New Mexico’s snake population, there are numerous other species to discover in the region. Here are some notable examples:
The Rock Rattlesnake, scientifically known as Crotalus lepidus, has adapted to the harsh terrain of southern New Mexico. These snakes are tan in color with dark gray or black stripes around their sides and back, often resembling zig-zags. As they age, their prey increases in size, starting from invertebrates and insects and progressing to mice, small lizards, and potentially even birds. Rock Rattlesnakes prefer to live in hiding places among rocks, making them rare sights near human infrastructure.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, or Crotalus atrox, is the largest rattlesnake species found in New Mexico. This snake exhibits diamond-shaped patches along its back, which are darker than its usual scale color. The Western Diamondback is easily distinguishable by the black and white bands on its tail. It is the most common rattlesnake in the state, inhabiting most areas south of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These snakes are most active at night and primarily hunt small rodents, with larger individuals known to hunt rabbits.
Western Coral Snake
The Western Coral Snake, scientifically named Micruroides euryxanthus, is known for its brightly colored scales. Its body exhibits wide rings of black and red, alternating with narrow yellow or white rings. The nose of this snake is black. It is important not to confuse this venomous snake with Milk Snakes, as their scale coloration mimics that of the Western Coral Snake. Although usually nocturnal, these snakes will emerge after rain to hunt and search for water. Their favorite prey includes other small snakes and small lizards. The Western Coral Snake is found only in southwestern New Mexico.
Checkered Garter Snake
The Checkered Garter Snake, scientifically referred to as Thamnophis marcianus, is a common nonvenomous snake found in New Mexico. These snakes have a dark green or tan coloration with a light yellow stripe that runs from their head to their tail. Their backs and sides are covered in dark spots. Checkered Garter Snakes reside near and around water sources, often traveling long distances to hunt and drink from springs and ephemeral streams. Their diet consists of frogs, salamanders, and worms. These snakes can be found in central and southern New Mexico.
The Desert Kingsnake, also known as Lampropeltis splendida, is a black snake with speckles of white or yellow on its sides. Its back is adorned with black saddle-shaped patches separated by light-colored scales. These snakes are particularly beneficial to humans as part of their diet includes rattlesnakes. Desert Kingsnakes also feed on rats, mice, lizards, and birds. Although they prefer habitats with more water, they can survive in desert scrub environments. They are primarily found in New Mexico south of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
In summary, while New Mexico may be known for its desert landscapes, it is home to a diverse range of snakes, including water snakes, like the Plain-bellied Water Snake and its subspecies, the Blotched Watersnake. Additionally, the region boasts other fascinating snake species such as the Rock Rattlesnake, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Western Coral Snake, Checkered Garter Snake, and Desert Kingsnake. Exploring the unique habitats of New Mexico can unveil a world of reptilian wonders.