In the article titled “Types of Water Snakes in Washington State,” the Wildlife Informer explores the various semi-aquatic snakes that can be found in the state, as well as their unique characteristics and habitats. While there are no true water snakes from the Genus Nerodia native to Washington State, the state is home to other species like the garter snake and the western terrestrial garter snake, which can be found in wetlands and water sources throughout the region. From the diverse landscape to the commitment to conservation, Washington boasts a range of snake species, including the western rattlesnake, rubber boa, red racer, and northern Pacific rattlesnake. With fascinating adaptations and roles within their ecosystems, these semi-aquatic snakes serve as predators and prey for both aquatic and terrestrial animals. This article will delve into the differences between semi-aquatic snakes and true water snakes, providing a comprehensive understanding of the water snake species found in Washington State.
Types of Water Snakes in Washington State
What Are Water Snakes?
Water snakes are a genus of nonvenomous, semi-aquatic colubrid snakes from the family Colubridae and subfamily Natricinae. They can be found in freshwater bodies around North America and are capable of surviving both in and out of water for extended periods of time. Water snakes come in varying sizes and colors, with some species growing up to four feet long while others remain relatively small.
What are semi-aquatic snakes?
Semi-aquatic snakes are well adapted to both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, spending a portion of their time in the water and the other on land. They are a combination of different garter species, water snakes, and some non-venomous colubrids. These snakes have certain adaptations that enable them to swim and hunt efficiently in the water, such as streamlined bodies. They are also adept at moving and hunting effectively on land. Some examples of semi-aquatic snakes include water snakes, cottonmouths, and green sea turtles. These snakes play a crucial role in their ecosystems, serving as both predators and prey for other aquatic and terrestrial animals.
What’s the difference between semi-aquatic snakes and true water snakes?
Semi-aquatic snakes are a general category of snakes adapted to both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, whereas water snakes from the genus Nerodia are a specific group of semi-aquatic snakes. Water snakes from the genus Nerodia are commonly known as true water snakes native to North America and are only found in slow-moving freshwater bodies. They are strong swimmers and have adapted their bodies to allow for greater agility in the water. Their flattened tails, webbed feet, and streamlined bodies give them an advantage when moving through the water. On the other hand, semi-aquatic snakes are not limited to one genus or species. They usually come from a variety of garter species, water snakes, and some non-venomous colubrids. They have adapted to both aquatic and terrestrial habitats but may not be as well-suited for movement in the water due to their lack of specific adaptations like webbed feet or a streamlined shape.
What species of semi-aquatic snakes are found in Washington?
Washington is home to two species of semi-aquatic snakes: the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) and the western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans). These snakes can be found in wetlands and other water sources such as streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes.
The common garter snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis
Length: Adults can reach up to 54.0 inches (137.2 centimeters)
Habitat: Wetlands, ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, and stream edges
Diet: Frogs, toads, fish, and other small aquatic animals
Behavior: Nocturnal activity and hibernation during the winter months
The common garter snake is a widely distributed species of semi-aquatic snake found throughout North America, including in Washington state. They get their name from the distinctive stripes that run along their bodies, resembling garters traditionally worn to hold up socks. The stripe pattern can be green, yellow, or red, depending on the particular subspecies and their environment. This stripe pattern helps to camouflage the snake in its habitat, making it difficult for predators to spot.
Common garter snakes have slender bodies and smooth scales arranged in 17 rows along their backs. In Washington, two subspecies of common garter snakes can be found: the red-spotted garter snake, often found in southwestern Washington, and the Puget Sound garter snake, found in Northwestern Washington.
Common garter snakes are nonvenomous and pose no threat to humans. They feed on various prey, including fish, frogs, and other aquatic animals. These snakes are often found near bodies of water where they hunt for food. As a semi-aquatic species, the common garter snake has adaptations that allow it to exist in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. For example, it has a flattened tail that provides propulsion in the water, enabling it to swim and hunt efficiently. The snake can also close its nostrils and eyes underwater to prevent water from entering its respiratory and ocular systems. These adaptations make the common garter snake well-suited to life in and around the water.
The western terrestrial garter snake
Scientific name: Thamnophis elegans
Length: Adults can reach up to 41 inches
Habitat: Wet areas such as swamps, marshes, streams, creeks, wetlands, and ponds
Diet: Mainly amphibians, insects, fish, and other small animals
Behavior: Nocturnal activity and inactivity during the winter months
The western terrestrial garter snake is a North American water snake found in the western United States, ranging from northern California to British Columbia. It is one of two species of terrestrial garter snakes, the other being the Eastern terrestrial garter snake.
The western terrestrial garter snake is a small species, with adults typically reaching around 18–41 inches in length. They have slender bodies and usually three longitudinal stripes running along the back and sides. The top stripe is typically yellow or light orange, while the side stripes are typically white or light gray.
These snakes can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats throughout Washington, including ponds, marshes, lakes, streams, and rivers. They are most commonly found in lowland areas near water bodies such as Puget Sound and Willapa Bay. They are occasionally spotted on beaches and saltwater estuaries as well. Although they tend to stay close to water sources, they may venture far from them in search of food or shelter.
Western terrestrial garter snakes are nonvenomous and generally harmless. However, if threatened or provoked, they may bite or secrete a foul-smelling musk for defense purposes. Despite their harmless nature when left alone, these snakes are often killed out of fear by unknowing people who mistake them for more dangerous species like rattlesnakes or copperheads.
In conclusion, while Washington State may not have any true water snakes from the Genus Nerodia, it is home to various species of semi-aquatic snakes such as the common garter snake and the western terrestrial garter snake. These snakes prove to be fascinating creatures that are well-adapted to both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, playing important roles in their ecosystems. By understanding and appreciating these semi-aquatic snakes, we can better protect and preserve their natural habitats for generations to come.