Brown Water Snake

Meet the brown water snake, Nerodia taxispilota, a semi-aquatic snake which lives all over the southeastern United States. It’s one of the most common snakes in Florida. Averaging 30-55 inches long, these snakes live in (as you might guess) watery habitats, including rivers, cypress stands, swamps, lakes, ponds and canals. They are excellent climbers and can often be found in trees, basking on limbs overhanging the water. This allows them to escape danger by leaping into the water if threatened (they are also excellent swimmers).

They are active at any time of day, and eat fish, frogs, earthworms, rodents, and carrion. Sometimes they even eat other snakes! Their eyes and nostrils are placed high on their head in such a manner that the snake can see and breathe with just a tiny bit of the head above water level, allowing the rest of the body to remain submerged.

Other common names for this species include water-pilot, water rattler (although it is not a rattlesnake and has no rattle), aspic, false moccasin, great water snake, and southern water snake. There is another species called “brown water snake” (Lycodonomorphus rufulus), but this species is native to South Africa.

Brown water snakes breed in the spring, and the young are born alive in late summer, in broods of about 30-40. Pregnant females are too heavy to hunt properly and will lay in fat reserves prior to reproduction, and sometimes resort to scavenging to obtain enough food. The increase in fat reserves is what triggers ovulation.

Though these snakes are often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus), due to their coloring, habitat, and slightly triangular head, they are non-venomous. (They will still bite if provoked, however.) The main differences are that the water snake has a round pupil rather than elliptical, and lacks a heat-sensing pit between its eye and nostril; however, I don’t recommend getting close enough to see that. This photo was taken with a 300mm zoom, which I do recommend.

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