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Northern Water Snake <image courtesy of Ohio Historical Society>

  • Adult body length: 24 - 42 inches, record 55 inches
  • Length at birth: 6½ - 12"
  • Breeding period: April - June
  • Young per year: 8 - 99 live young; 15 - 30 average
  • Typical foods: Frogs, small fish, salamanders, small turtles, crustaceans, and small mammals
  • This snake is not venomous. Still, it often is mistaken for the very dangerous, very venomous Water Moccasin, which is not native to Ohio.
  • Saliva produced by the Northern Water Snake contains a substance that inhibits the coagulation of blood. Therefore, a bite from this snake may cause profuse bleeding.


The Northern Water Snake is a stout-bodied snake with highly variable coloration. Its basic color is reddish-brown, brown, gray or black. Usually there are dark cross bands on the neck just behind the head. Sometimes these bands continue down the back, but more often they are broken into blotches that alternate between the back and sides. With age, an individual becomes almost completely black. The undersurface is white, yellowish or gray with dark spots.

Overall Range
Quebec and Maine south to North Carolina, and west through Ontario to Minnesota, eastern Colorado and Tennessee.
Range in Ohio
This is one of the most abundant snakes in Ohio and lives in every county.
Reportedly living in every permanent body of water, it probably is absent only from badly polluted water.

Northen Water Snake Ohio Map

Local Habitat
Lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes, streams, and rivers.


The Northern Water Snake is mainly active during the day, although it sometimes will hunt for food at night. It favors basking on rocks, logs, stumps or other objects next to water, and it often lies in low branches that overhand water. When threatened or startled it drops into the water and swims away from the threat. This snake is far from timid and bites readily and vigorously, both under water and above water.


ODNR, Division of Wildlife, "Species A-Z Guide"

Ohio History Central, "Northern Water Snake"

University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web

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© 2001 Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN)
The Ohio Historical Society (OHS)
Date of last revision: 06/25/2003
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