Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)
Northern Water Snake Identification size 22" - 53". Ground color is brown or gray. Brown, reddish, or black bands mark the neck; further back, blotches alternate between the back and sides. On the back, the light spaces are much narrower than the bands or blotches. Half-moons or speckles may be present on belly. Older water snakes are much darker, usually brown or black with only faint remnants of pattern. Juveniles have a more vivid pattern, with darker markings on a lighter ground color. Scales are keeled; anal plate is divided. The Northern Water Snake can exhibit a mean disposition and can inflict a painful, non-venomous bite if handled, as well as a pungent musk. Where to find them: Perfers quiet waters, but it can be found in just about any river, stream, pond, lake, swamp, marsh, or bog. It can be seen swimming and foraging as well as basking on land.
When to find them: Active May through October.
Range: Entire state.
Although the Northern Water Snake is a nonvenomous species, the darker specimens are
occasionally mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth, which is not found in New Jersey. While
the more reddish-brown specimens in our area may superficially resemble Copperheads, the
Northern Water Snake has a head shape, pupil shape and pattern that are quite distinct from these
venomous snakes. Although water snakes are non venomous, they are quick to anger and should
be viewed from a distance.
Commonly seen along lakeshores and ponds, they spend their time near or in the water because that is where their food lives- fish and frogs! By eating diseased fish, which are easier to catch, they help to keep fish populations healthy. These snakes are large bodied with a blotched back, which fades to plain black or brown in some adults. They will bite if restrained or otherwise threatened in the wild, but they are not dangerous in any way. Water snakes are a protected species though not considered to be ‘at risk.’ They are found throughout southern Ontario, sometimes as far north as Sudbury.