9 Types of Water Snakes Found in South Carolina! (ID Guide)

What kinds of water snakes can you find in South Carolina?

Common South Carolina 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 9 water snakes that live in South Carolina.

 

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.

 


#1. Common Water Snake

  • Nerodia sipedon

Types of Water Snakes found in South Carolina

There are two subspecies of the Common Water Snake in South Carolina.

Their coloration varies depending on which one you see!

  • Northern Water Snake (N. s. sipedon): 

    • 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.
  • Midland Water Snake (N. s. pleuralis):

    • Typically light gray in color, but some individuals are reddish.
    • Near the head, they have dark crossbands. As you move down the snake, the crossbands are replaced by dark squarish blotches.

 

This species is one of the most common watersnakes in western South Carolina!

 

Common Water Snakes 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 Water Snake Range Map

common watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

When disturbed, Common 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.

 

Common Water Snake populations are considered to be stable in South Carolina. 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. Plain-bellied Watersnake

  • Nerodia erythrogaster

Water Snakes species that live in South Carolina


Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a thick body and range from 24 to 40 inches in length.
  • Solid coloration of gray, brown, olive, or black.
  • As the name suggests, they have a plain unmarked underside varying from red to yellow.
  • Also called Redbelly, Yellowbelly, Copperbelly, or Blotched Watersnake.

 

The Plain-bellied Watersnake can be found near various water sources, including rivers, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. This species spends an unusual amount of time on land compared with other water snakes found in South Carolina. Especially during hot, humid weather, they can be found in woodlands quite far from a water source.

 

Plain-bellied Watersnake Range Map

plain bellied watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

They feed on BOTH aquatic and terrestrial prey, including crayfish, fish, salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians. Another unusual feature of this species is that they will sit and wait to ambush their prey, especially on land. Almost all other water snakes actively hunt and chase their victims!

 

The females give birth in August or September to live young. Litters average 18 young, but one of 55 has been reported! These unique water snakes can also produce offspring via parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction in which an embryo develops without fertilization by sperm.

 

If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and are not afraid to bite! Plain-bellied Watersnakes are eaten by largemouth bass, egrets, hawks, and sometimes other larger snakes.

 


#3. Queen Snake

  • Regina septemvittata

Common Water Snakes species in South Carolina

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 South Carolina.

 

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 South Carolina, they don’t typically bite.

 


#4. Northern Cottonmouth

  • Agkistrodon piscivorus

venomous snake species that are common

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 26 to 35 inches in length. Females are typically smaller than males.
  • Most individuals are dark gray to black with a broad head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and a blunt snout.
  • Some individuals have a brown, gray, tan, or blackish coloration.
  • Also commonly called Water Moccasins, Black Moccasins, or Gapers.

 

Cottonmouths are the ONLY venomous water snake in South Carolina.

 

Be on the lookout for these water snakes near swamps, marshes, ponds, and slow-moving streams and rivers, as well as flooded fields and drainage ditches. But they aren’t limited to just aquatic habitats. Cottonmouths can also be found in palmetto thickets, pine forests, dune areas, and prairies.

Northern Cottonmouth Range Map

cottonmouth range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Since Northern Cottonmouths are typically near water, the bulk of their diet is made up of fish and frogs. But they are opportunistic and will also eat small mammals, birds, turtles, small alligators, and other snakes.

 

These water snakes have several defensive tactics to warn potential threats to stay away! They often vibrate their tail in the leaf litter, pull their heads up and back, and then open their mouth to hiss and expose a white interior. This particular display is what earned them the name “cottonmouth.

 

Since they are venomous, please use extra caution if you come across an unknown water snake. Quite a few species look similar, especially if you just get a glance as one moves across the water.

 

Luckily, receiving a bite from a Northern Cottonmouth is rare. But when it does happen, it is very serious as their venom destroys tissue. It is rare to die from their bite, but it does cause swelling and bruising and can leave scars.

 


#5. Banded Watersnake

  • Nerodia fasciata fasciata

southern watersnake (banded)

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 24 to 48 inches in length.
  • Coloration is typically gray, greenish-gray, or brown with darker cross bands. Some individuals may be so dark that the bands are barely distinguishable.
  • Flat heads and heavy bodies.
  • Subspecies of the Southern Watersnake.

 

The Banded Watersnake is found in South Carolina near almost any fresh water source within their range. Look for them everywhere, including lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps, wetlands, and streams. They’re often spotted on branches overhanging the water, sunning themselves.

Southern Watersnake Range Map

southern or banded watersnake range map

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS

 

These water snakes are primarily nocturnal and spend much of their time hunting along the shoreline for frogs and small fish. Like other water snakes, they quickly grab their prey and swallow it alive.

 

Banded Watersnakes are docile and non-venomous. But if they are captured or grabbed, they will flatten their heads, release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the tip of their tail, and may bite. Unfortunately, they are sometimes killed because they are mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth.


#6. Brown Watersnake

  • Nerodia taxispilota

brown watersnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
  • Coloration is light brown to dark brown with darker brown blotches down the center of the back and on the sides.
  • Thick body with a large head that is distinct from the neck.
  • It may also be called Water-pilot, False Moccasin, Great Water Snake, Pied Water Snake, Southern Water Snake, and Water Rattle.

 

Brown Watersnakes are found near various permanent water sources, including rivers, cypress stands, swamps, lakes, ponds, and canals. They’re rarely seen far from the water’s edge. Look for them in areas with overhanging vegetation, emergent snags, and rocky banks, which provide places for the water snakes to bask.

brown watersnake range map

Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society

 

Unlike other watersnakes in South Carolina, they feed almost exclusively on fish, particularly young catfish.

 

Brown Watersnakes are also excellent climbers and can be spotted basking on branches overhanging the water up to 20 feet up. If disturbed, they’ll quickly drop into the water and dive under the surface to flee. They have been known to fall into passing boats accidentally! 🙂

 

This species is relatively common throughout its range and isn’t considered threatened. However, it is protected in some states. Like other watersnakes, it faces habitat degradation and loss as well as needless killing from people who mistake them for venomous cottonmouths.

 


#7. Eastern Glossy Swampsnake

  • Liodytes rigida rigida

glossy swampsnake or crayfish snake -

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 14 to 24 inches in length.
  • Coloration is a glossy brownish to olive with yellow lip scales. There are sometimes two dark or black stripes running down the back.
  • The underside is yellow with two rows of black half-moons or dots.

 

Eastern Glossy Swampsnakes inhabit and rarely leave slow-moving waterways such as cypress swamps, roadside ditches, ponds, lakes, marshes, streams, and rivers. These water snakes are quite secretive and often hide under logs and debris near the water or inside crayfish burrows. Your best chance to see one might be on roadways during or after a heavy rain.

Glossy Swampsnake Range Map

glossy swampsnake range map

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS

 

These nocturnal water snakes primarily feed on crayfish. They don’t constrict their prey but use their coils to help hold it while swallowing it alive, typically tail-first. Their small, chisel-shaped teeth allow them to consume hard-shelled crayfish.

 

When disturbed, Glossy Swampsnakes quickly flee into the water and dive to the bottom. If cornered, they may flatten themselves and release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail. If picked up, they may hiss and feign striking but rarely bite.

 

Due to their highly secretive nature, little is known about the population status of these water snakes in South Carolina. But their dependence on aquatic habitats and crayfish may subject them to decline due to habitat loss and degradation.

 


#8. Black Swampsnake

  • Liodytes pygaea

black swampsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Small, thin water snakes that are only 10 – 15 inches in length.
  • Shiny black.
  • Bright orange or red belly with black marks.

 

Black Swampsnakes are the smallest water snakes found in South Carolina!

 

Unfortunately, they can be hard to find. Not only are they small and black, but they live in wet areas with dense vegetation.

Black Swampsnake Range Map

black swampsnake range map

In addition, they are almost entirely aquatic. These water snakes don’t even come to dry land to give birth. Females deliver 11-13 LIVE babies directly in shallow water!

 

Since they are so small, Black Swampsnakes feed mostly on tiny fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, leeches, and earthworms.

 


#9. Florida Green Watersnake

  • Nerodia floridana

florida greenwater snake range map

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults have a large head and range from 30 to 55 inches in length.
  • Coloration is varied and can be green, brown, gray, or orangish. No distinct markings except maybe some speckling and a yellow or white underside. Juveniles may have darker cross bands which fade with age.
  • Also called Eastern Green Watersnake.

 

Florida Green Watersnakes are the largest watersnake native to South Carolina!

 

They prefer calm, shallow bodies of water, like marshes, lakes, ponds, or canals, that have open canopies and dense vegetation. They’re rarely seen in rivers or streams.

Florida Green Watersnake Range Map

florida green watersnake range map

Florida Green Watersnakes primarily feed on frogs, salamanders, tadpoles, and fish, including sunfish, crappies, and small bass. Like other watersnakes, they quickly grab their prey and swallow it alive.

 

This species is non-venomous, and their first instinct when disturbed is to flee. They’ll quickly move into the water or under some cover. If captured, they release a foul-smelling musk and will bite.

 


Do you need additional help identifying a water snake?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these water snakes have you seen in South Carolina?

 

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