This is the next in a series on snakes that’s being written for you by The Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department Supervisor, Judith Bryja. Our Herp Department knows their stuff, and since we get so much interest in snakes, Judith is writing this informative blog series each week just for you! If you’d like to read the series from the beginning, click here.
Frequenting the same habitat as the venomous water moccasin or cottonmouth, water snakes are numerous in species and numbers. They prefer wooded areas near slow moving water. Swamps, ponds, marshes, bayous, small streams, even muddy ditches are all places where you can find these snakes.
Their diet consists mostly of frogs and fish. Babies are born live usually in the early fall. They’re excellent swimmers but will spend considerable time on land and sunning themselves on submerged logs. When swimming (unlike the cottonmouth which holds its head high and with the back visible) the head is held just barely out of the water and the body is mostly submerged.
Like most snakes, their first reaction to a threat is to get away, but if they cannot, they will vigorously defend themselves by striking and biting and by releasing a foul smelling liquid from their scent glands. There are about 10 species in Texas with about half of them occurring in the Houston area. We will look at what are probably the 3 most commonly encountered.
Color is variable but usually the background is yellow, brown, or even red. Wide irregular bands of black or brown break up the ground color. The yellowish belly has random splotches of black/brown. They have a dark stripe that runs from the eye to the end of the mouth. Except for brighter colors, babies look the same as adults. Adult size is 20-30 inches.
Color is grey-green (though sometimes darker to almost black). The back may have indistinct darker crossbars. The belly is bright yellow as is the area around the mouth. Babies are heavily patterned and have a pink hue. Average adult size is 24-36 inches.
Color is any shade of olive, grey, or brown with dark markings which look sort of like chain link fencing or diamonds (hence the common name). The belly is yellowish with dark scattered crescent shaped marks. The head is large and flattened with a distinct neck; this is a good example of why the “triangle shaped” head thing does not work to distinguish venomous from nonvenomous snakes. Babies look pretty much the same, just brighter. This is our largest water snake with an average adult size of 30-48 inches. It is also in general our most cantankerous water snake, not hesitant to get right into the thrashing, striking, biting, spewing stinky stuff part of its defense repertoire.
At present, we have a broad-banded water snake on exhibit here in the Reptile/Amphibian building right next door to the venomous cottonmouth with which it is often confused.
Come back for the next installment in this Snake Series!
For more information on Texassnakes, Judith has reccomended these two resources: http://www.herpsoftexas.org/ and The Field Guide to TX Snakes written by James Dixon and former Houston Zoo director John Werler.