The 2 Types of Water Snakes in New York! (ID Guide)

What kinds of water snakes can you find in New York?

common water snakes

 

Is it just me, or do you also find water snakes fascinating?

 

There’s something about the way they move across the water that is incredibly interesting. Whenever I am near a pond, marsh, or other body of water, I make sure to look for any water snakes moving about.

 

Today, you are going to learn about the 2 water snakes that live in New York.

 

The species below are considered either aquatic or semi-aquatic, which means that it’s very likely that you will see them actively swimming or extremely close to water, such as sunning themselves on a bank.

 

Many other snake species can be found NEAR water habitats but don’t particularly enjoy being IN THE WATER. For the sake of this article, I did NOT include these snakes.

 

The 2 Types of Water Snakes That Live in New York:

 


#1. Northern Water Snake

  • Nerodia sipedon sipedon

northern water snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
  • Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
  • Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
  • Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.

 

This species is the most common water snake in New York!

 

Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water such as ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.

 

Common Watersnake Range Map (Northern Water Snakes are subspecies)

common watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These water snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting during the day along the water’s edge and shallow water. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!

 

When disturbed, Northern Watersnakes flee into the water to escape. However, if grabbed or captured, they’re quick to defend themselves. They will release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tale, flatten their body, and strike the attacker.

 

While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!

 

Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.

 

Northern Watersnake populations are considered to be stable in New York. However, like many other water snakes, this species faces habitat loss and degradation. Unfortunately, they are also commonly killed by people out of fear.

 


#2. Queen Snake

  • Regina septemvittata

queensnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are generally around 24 inches in length though individuals up to 36 inches have been reported.
  • Coloration is drab brown or olive green with two lighter stripes down the sides.
  • The underside is yellow or tan and also has four dark stripes that run the length of their belly. No other similar species has this feature!

 

Queen Snakes prefer moving water and are generally found near streams and rivers with rocky bottoms. They have highly permeable skin, making them susceptible to evaporative water loss. As you can imagine, they are rarely spotted far from water.

Queen Snake Range Map

queensnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Queen Snakes are considered to be less secretive than other water snakes in New York.

 

They are primarily diurnal and can be spotted basking on rocks, overhanging branches, or vegetation near the water’s edge. They often take refuge under rocks along the edges of streams. If you’re lucky, you may see them swimming.

 

These water snakes are specialist predators that primarily feed on crayfish. They almost exclusively prey on newly molted crayfish, which have soft bodies and can’t use their pinchers yet. They hunt by probing under rocks and other submerged objects for crayfish.

 

If disturbed, their first instinct is to flee into the water and dive below the surface. They typically will hide near the bottom briefly or swim down the shoreline before re-emerging. If cornered or captured, they will flatten themselves and may release a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of their tail. Unlike other water snakes found in New York, they don’t typically bite.

 


Do you need additional help identifying a water snake?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these water snakes have you seen in New York?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

2 Comments

  1. Years ago swimming in one of the many lakes near and around West Point,NY . , enjoying a swim with friends to swim across the lake, I looked to my side and a snake swam right past me with numerous little snakes trailing right behind it. They seemed totally oblivious to me and just kept swimming by. I’m pretty sure it was a Northern watersnake but not really sure. Just seems funny now, not so much at the time lol

  2. Canoeing, Saw a large grey water snake today (July 7th 2022) at the Cayuta Lake inlet, surrounded by shallow water, basking on a sunny spot (emerged log end perhaps). Primarily gray, but with the distinctive vertical striping as in most field book images. Cayuta Lake is a small shallow lake between Ithaca and Watkins Glen.

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