Discover Nature: Northern Watersnake

Jul 5, 2017

Spend much time near a Missouri waterbody in summer, and chances are you’ll see reptiles galore including water snakes basking on a sunny day.

Watch for Missouri’s most common water snake, the non-venomous Northern watersnake basking in the sun near water this week.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

The Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) is gray to reddish-brown with numerous brown or blackish cross-bands along the front third of the body. The bands are blotchy in the latter part of the snake’s body. The belly is cream-colored with numerous black and reddish half-moon markings or spots.

Missouri’s most common species of water snake, the Northern watersnake grows up to 42 inches long. Find them basking on branches overhanging water or on logs or rocks along the water’s edge. In hot weather, they’re nocturnal. Water snakes will bite in defense, if provoked, but are non-venomous. 

Contrary to common belief, water snakes do not harm game fish populations.  In fact, they eat dead or dying fish, thus preventing the spread of diseases, and reducing fish overpopulation.  Defenseless newborn watersnakes also become food for fish, frogs, birds, mammals, and other snakes. 

Learn more about the Northern watersnake and other snakes of Missouri with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online Field Guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.