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Our Snakes Swim! And: Learn How to Spot a Non-Venomous Water Snake


The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man. ―Charles Darwin

We have lots of snakes in South Florida, in the Everglades region — and like other parts of the country, most are non-venomous, with a few poisonous critters thrown in for good measure. The Cottonmouth, Rattlesnake, and Coral Snake are Florida’s more notable poisonous snakes — but there are only 6 species that are venomous and a known danger to humans. SIX! The remaining are non-venomous, and vital members of our ecosystem.

Banded Water Snake, Florida Wetlands

But if you’ve seen the Discovery Channel of late — or the History Channel’s “Life After People” series — you’ll know of the Everglades’ relatively new and constant battle with pythons. In fact, just recently on August 15, the biggest python was captured in the Everglades National Park — a female measuring 17 feet, 7 inches, and carrying 87 eggs. WHOA. Wrap your head around that size (and egg quantity) for a moment. While she broke records, these invasive pythons continue to wreak havoc on native Everglades wildlife; these snakes that were brought to Florida as a result of the relaxed regulations in the trade of exotic reptiles are decimating the local populations of a sensitive and threatened ecosystem onto which they were set free.

But fortunately, I didn’t see her; I saw water snakes during our last venture! This guy is a common water snake in our area — the Florida Banded Water Snake. They prefer freshwater habitats, and can be found in the shallow waters of wetlands, swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. They’re native to the peninsula, and to the extremities of southeastern Georgia, and feed on live and dead fish and amphibians. Like other snakes, the Banded Water Snake plays a vital and significant role in our ecosystem. As predators, they feed on a variety of creatures, and can control the rodent populations. Snakes are also important prey for other species of predators. The presence or removal of snakes from any area affects the overall health of many ecosystems — and continued development threatens snakes’ survival.

I see a swimming ssssnake!

Lovely stripes of the Banded Water Snake

Many people automatically assume water snakes are venomous — this is actually far from the truth. Most, nearly all in fact, are harmless and non-venomous to humans — although like any wildlife, they have a mouth full of teeth, and will bite to defend themselves. Sadly, many of these perfectly harmless snakes are killed by ignorant humans — so to avoid any confusion, here’s an easy way to distinguish non-venomous water snakes from the Cottonmouths:

  • Water snakes’ eyes can be seen from the top of the head — as in the picture below — while you can’t see the eyes of Cottonmouths from above
  • Water snakes’ pupils are round, while those of the Cottonmouth are vertical and cat-like
  • There is no facial pit on the side of the head between the eye and the nostril with water snakes — but there is with Cottonmouths
  • The tops of water snakes’ are more rounded, while those of Cottonmouths are flat and triangular

Feeling my way around; Look at my eyes…

We often encounter snakes on our hikes — water and land snakes. Sometimes, we’re not sure if they’re venomous, and we ALWAYS leave them alone. Well… Except for the hurt Cottonmouth in the road we saved. And those snakes we knew to be non-venomous, like the very large Brown Water Snake that somehow ended up in my interior closet (how he got there, I’ll never know…?). Even the kitties were frightened of that poor scared — and massive guy.

Most snakes aren’t aggressive and will flee when humans approach, so they’ll only defend themselves — striking out or biting — if they’re feeling cornered, threatened, or are handled. An inordinate amount of snakebites are on the hands and arms, due to handling snakes. Be smart, and above all else — be respectful of wildlife and their land.

Banded Water Snake, Florida Wetlands

Visit the blog Hinterland Village Resort, for a post on A Snake Rescued in India!

Fun Fact:

Unlike land snakes, which lay eggs, the Florida Banded Water Snake bears live young! Mating occurs during the mid-winter and spring, and litters of 20 – 30 young are born in the late spring through summer. Baby Banded Snakes are 7 – 10 inches at birth.

51 Comments Post a comment
  1. Excellent information!! Even though I was a biology major, when its been a long time I get soft on my information about snakes. I have been thinking of getting some decent boots for hiking with the thought of poisonous snakes in mind. The sharp triangluar head was about the only thing that stuck!! So I really like that information about seeing the eyes from the top….I think it will end up practical and useful for me. Thanks, appreciated!!

    And, I agree about the non native species. I don’t know if I blame regulations or people. It makes me sick that people will release a non native species into the wild because they bit off more than they could chew in purchasing a pet. I love the diversity on the planet, but each area has its defenses so its just plain selfish do put something into a place were it does not belong, where it has no natural enemies and endangers the existing population. You certainly can’t blame the wildlife, its nature is just to find a way to live. Never understood why people would do that on purpose. In Guam, the brown tree snake came in with plants…probably lack of proper inspection rather than anything deliberate, but it has decimated the birds as the snake goes after the eggs. Everything has a consequence. I am not a pile on the rules and regulations person, but I am an individual responsiblity person….lets think before we release things into our environment.

    August 29, 2012
    • I agree TOTALLY… You can’t blame the wildlife, of course. They’re just doing their thing. But the situation with the pythons? Human travesty. This was blatantly intentional, and ignorant. To release them in such a sensitive, endangered ecosystem — this, after the lax controls on our importing of wildlife in Miami/Dade (it was bad, I read a lot on it) — shame. They’re contending with the situation now. 😦

      People always panic when they see bigger snakes, especially water snakes. But they’re SO gentle, and SO good for the surrounding environment. Don’t kill them! Especially when their habitats are ALREADY disappearing. We need them… We’re constantly saving them, everywhere we can. For me, the eye info is the easiest bit — I knew about the head shape, but sometimes that’s tough to see. The eyes are EASY. 🙂

      August 29, 2012
  2. david #

    so great!

    August 29, 2012
  3. “Life After People” is a very cool series, and I saw the one about the pythons. I also saw an article when they caught the record-setter in April. Didn’t know they released her again to study. Sounds like they re-caught her just in time. 87 eggs! I wonder how many pythons are out there? Great photos and info.

    August 29, 2012
    • Can you believe that…87 eggs?? Like you said — just in the nick of time! It’s frightening to think, at that rate, how many pythons are in the Everglades. At least now there’s vigilant capture of them.

      On hikes, they always tell us to let them know if we see one, of course…

      August 29, 2012
  4. As always, beautiful pictures. I adore snakes, and these ones are absolutely gorgeous. The first picture is my favourite. 😉 I’m so jealous of your talents! May I ask what kind of camera you use?

    August 29, 2012
    • Thanks so much! These were shot at dusk with an incorrect setting, so I wasn’t really thrilled with the outcome, but I really wanted to highlight these wonderful creatures.

      I need to make note of this info in my About area, lol! This post is actually a mixed bag — I was moving from a Canon Rebel to a Canon 7D (recently!), so there’s a bit of both included in here. 🙂

      August 29, 2012
  5. Hello,
    I nominated you for the Capture the Colour Photo Contest:
    Please don’t feel like you have to enter the contest, but if you want to, know that the deadline is today.
    In any case, I nominated you because I think you take great photos!
    Have a great day!

    August 29, 2012
    • You’re so kind — MANY thanks!! 🙂

      August 29, 2012
  6. Lovely pictures with a great lesson on snakes 🙂

    August 29, 2012
    • Thanks so much!! Any little bit of info to help these most amazing creatures… 🙂

      August 29, 2012
  7. Thank you for your piece on snakes. Although I can’t say that I have encountered many snakes, have had on wrapped around me when at our CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) but other than that. that is my great experience with them. I am not looking for more but I do agree very strongly with your point about imported “exotic” critters. I never can understand what people think when they bring to a different country critters of a different stripe than is present. Ok , maybe bring is not oh so bad but why once they have grown to some size, do these same people release them into the wild. Surely, these people know something about the critters they willy-nilly transport here and there? These creatures live, grow, eat no matter where they live. This is not a known fact?? These people think that because they took these creatures under their wings, the creatures would stay small, cuddly or cute forever??? What fairy land do these people live in and how can they think it ok to release these creatures into the wilds of different countries without any concern for for either the animal or the people who will latter have to deal with them?? I simply do not understand. Surely we have many wonderful and “exotic” animals, reptiles and the like right here on this very continent. Sometimes I think that some people’s brains are at the bottom of their feet and they can’t think straight because every day they are stomping on their brains!!!!

    August 29, 2012
    • I agree COMPLETELY… It’s purely selfish, to purchase / deal in exotic wildlife. Also, need I say — CRUEL. And these people, without a care in the world to the land and native species around them, thoughtlessly releasing these animals when they’re “done” with them — INEXCUSABLE. Especially in an ecosystem as delicate and threatened as the Everglades?!?

      Thanks so much for your comments and kind words… I definitely keep my distance with snakes, non-venomous and poisonous alike! RESPECT, hee!!

      August 30, 2012
  8. I can’t stand snakes ! They freak me out – in particular water snakes. We have water snakes here in Maryland and one day I saw one that had a fish in its mouth. It then proceeded to slither backwards! I ran as fast as I could.

    August 29, 2012
    • Hahahah! Oh believe me… I’m in AWE of them. I don’t run up and cuddle with ’em. I just hate the fact that many people kill them unnecessarily, and their populations are already at risk with disappearing habitats / over-development. Especially down here, even in the HOTTEST months, I wear tall hiking boots. It’s common to see water / land snakes on our hikes, and sometimes I can’t get close enough to see their eyes, heh!

      August 29, 2012
  9. Pam #

    Love these snakes! We see them at McKee Gardens all the time.

    August 29, 2012
    • Aw, yay!! Another who fully respects these guys! I keep my distance — LOVE my telephoto, hah!

      August 30, 2012
  10. I enjoyed seeing these! I like snakes in general and like you, I hate to see them killed. I suspect people fear them and kill them for much the same reasons that they do wolves.

    August 29, 2012
    • EXACTLY. (I wish they were better pics, sorry!) I think the wolves issue also has to do with big $$ (livestock), as well as a macho-hunting chip. I can understand the fear, but BREEEEATHE through it, look at it, and above all — respect what’s sharing and trying to live on the land.

      August 30, 2012
  11. Useful information in Louisiana, too. Thanks for sharing! ❤

    August 30, 2012
    • Most definitely — We probably share many of the same critters!!

      I hope you’re faring well with Isaac….?!?

      August 30, 2012
      • Everything is good, thanks! ❤

        August 30, 2012
  12. What beautiful snake shots. Our snakes swim too – even the poisonous adder – and who can blame them when it’s hot!

    August 30, 2012
    • Ah, thanks! I wasn’t that thrilled with them, truth be told — wrong settings due to an excited and sudden discovery of Mr. Snake (each time, actually). 🙂 It’s so funny to see people yelp when they see snakes swimming!! Wow, adders… I don’t think we have them!

      August 30, 2012
  13. Great info and so glad you are sharing the fact that they are both necessary to the environment and not, necessarily, poisonous. I still, however, shall be avoiding all snakes – sorry guys “it’s not you, it’s me”.

    August 30, 2012
    • Oh believe me… I keep my distance with these guys! The telephoto is my FRIEND. 🙂 As much as I respect them, I also respect a few feet between us…. heh!

      August 30, 2012
  14. narhvalur #

    Our European Grass Snake is a keen swimmer !

    August 30, 2012
    • Ooooh I’d love to see that guy!

      August 30, 2012
  15. Errrrr… great post…. not sure I want to study the eyes and top of their heads that close as my luck it would be venomous and by the time I crossed everything of the list…. too late!!! 🙂

    August 30, 2012
    • Hahahhh!! Believe me, I had the benefit of my lovely telephoto…. 🙂 I think they’re ALL venomous until proven otherwise, just to be extra-extra-safe. I’ve seen my share of Cottonmouths and their sheddings on hikes — I learn. Albeit slowly at times.

      August 30, 2012
  16. narhvalur #

    You probably can! Search for Grass Snake on my blog!!!!!

    August 30, 2012
  17. Thanks for the info. I never killed snakes. And I seem never will because I’ll surely run away really fast when I encounter one 🙂 hope it won’t run after me. The ones you photographed are beautiful though.

    August 30, 2012
    • Hahahah! No worries, in most cases, they’ll be trying to hide from you too! They’re just as frightened of us — they’ll be territorial / defensive when necessary, that’s all. I wish I had better images of these guys — they were tough to snap in the wetlands.

      August 31, 2012
  18. I don’t mind snakes too much, but I would NOT want one showing up mysteriously in my closet! Great post.

    August 30, 2012
    • DITTO! To this day I’ll never know how such a large snake ended up in there. Poor guy was just as traumatized as I was, when I threw my work shoes on him after a long day… But we saved him! Hee, even the kitties were frightened of his size.

      August 31, 2012
  19. Dadgummit, FeyGirl, can you believe what I saw at the Farmer’s Market last week? Some dumbass person with a humongous albino python (yellow as a bananer) wrapped around her neck and down either side of her . . . . And her point was? A fashion-forward accessory??? I could spit! People!

    I must say, though, being one (a person), I baffle myself too. This gut-wrenching response to snakes I simply cannot help, even though I am totally fascinated and find them utterly spectacularly beautiful, the way they move, the way I see them in your pictures and read about them in your wonderful prose — and I still can’t help the basal brain rearing up in horror. Sigh. It’s not easy being human. I guess.

    August 31, 2012
    • WOW… I sure hope that person was joking. A FASHION accessory my @(#@(#(!!!!

      You’re so kind with your compliments! But believe me, I FULLY errr….”respect” these animals. When I see them on our hikes, I automatically assume *danger danger* until I learn otherwise, just to be safe. (Today for instance, we were on an unmarked trail, in tall grasses, and heard a rattle. EEKSSSS!) But for the most part, snakes are amazing and critical aspects of ANY ecosystem. Truly.

      September 3, 2012
      • Yeeps. Still scared, I am!

        September 3, 2012
  20. Wow! You are courageous! I wouldn’t have been able to stay too long with my knees knocking so loudly!

    September 6, 2012
    • Hee!! Well, I have a telephoto lens… And believe me, I do consider them ALL dangerous until I know otherwise, just to be extra-extra SAFE! But the majority are harmless. Just big and slithery. 🙂

      September 6, 2012
  21. What a helpful, informative post. People kill common watersnakes here in Ohio thinking that they are cottonmouths, but there are no cottonmouths in Ohio.

    I was talking to a park ranger during our vacation, and she told me that timber rattlesnakes are considered to be an endangered species here. If someone calls the park service to complain about a rattlesnake in their yard, the park service will move it, but not more than two miles from where they picked it up (and they also insert a tracking device while they are at). I got to meet a rattlesnake that was going to be released back in the wild the next day.

    September 12, 2012
    • Thanks so much! Snakes are such a valuable part of ANY ecosystem… They need to be respected as such.

      How interesting! What a wonderful service they’re providing… I hope they’re getting the news out to everyone about this service / endangered status, to ensure that people don’t automatically KILL them — and that they know this amazing resource exists! How lucky for you to see one, too!

      We’ve saved Cottonmouths in the road, when we knew cars were nearby. It’s their land — not their fault they’re doing their natural thing. Big stick + big throw into the waters = saved venomous snake. Nothing fancy, but we don’t want to see them run over.

      September 13, 2012
  22. Yikes! Don’t go near the water??? 😉

    September 13, 2012
    • Heh…. SO hard not to do on our hikes! Water tends to pop up, even when you least expect it! “Oops, more swamp!” But no worries. Most of these guys are harmless. Even the venomous critters run away!

      September 15, 2012
  23. Hello Fey Girl, thanks for stopping by The Naturephile. I’m very pleased you liked it enough to click the Follow button!

    Great post here, it’s good to see someone sticking up for the reptiles. They’re spectacular and simultaneously much maligned creatures, so good for you for speaking up for them and debunking popular prejudices 🙂

    September 26, 2012
    • Thanks so very much!

      I agree… They’re critical members of ANY ecosystem, and we need to overcome our social popular misconceptions and prejudices towards them. They do an incredible amount of good. But like all wildlife, education is key…

      September 27, 2012
  24. Excellent info! As a new Floridian, I rely on your blog for education! It’s such a fantastic resource, and I greatly appreciate it!

    September 27, 2012
    • What a wonderful compliment… I’m so happy for that!! I also learn in the process, believe me — as many times as we’re out and about, we’ve often wondered about certain critters. Share the love and education, right? 🙂

      September 27, 2012
  25. Amazing!!!! Thank you ❤

    October 1, 2016
    • Thanks so much! As with all wildlife, it’s wise to be mindful of snakes (YES!), but they’re absolutely amazing creatures… 🙂

      October 2, 2016

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