northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon)
CHARACTERISTICS: This is a large aquatic snake, measuring 24-
42 in. (61-106.7 cm) in length. It has dark crossbands on the neck and
foreparts of the body, and alternating dorsal and lateral blotches on the
rest of the body. The dark markings are wider than the spaces between
them. There are usually black or reddish half-moons on the belly. The
adults tend to darken so that the pattern becomes obscure. Half-moons
on the belly may be arranged in a regular pattern, scattered at random,
represented by dusky areas, or they may be entirely absent. Nerodia
sipedon is often confused in Virginia with the venomous cottonmouth
or "water moccasin". The cottonmouth has broad crossbands that occur
along the entire length of the body, a large, angular head, vertical pupils,
and a pit between the eye and nostril. In addition, the cottonmouth lacks
the half-moons on the venter and occurs only in southeastern Virginia.
The northern watersnake emerges from hibernation in late March or
April and mates soon thereafter. The young, up to 70 in number, are born
live from late August to early October. This snake will usually bite when
handled, and it can inflict a painful wound from its long teeth. It may also
vibrate its tail when disturbed.
DISTRIBUTION: This snake is found below 1500 meters elevation
statewide in Virginia, including several of the barrier islands. The north-
ern watersnake is common in a variety of aquatic habitats, including lakes,
ponds, rivers, freshwater and tidal creeks, ditches, swamps, freshwater and brackish marshes, and low wet areas.
FOODS: This snake is a predator of fish and amphibians, although other
prey are sometimes taken. Prey are swallowed alive.
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