March 30, 2012
For my NH animal research project I chose to do water snakes. I chose this topic because I knew little to none information about them, and I had seen them before at Hermit lake and wondered about them. The northern water snakes are the only type of water snake in NH. They are non-venomous but are commonly confused for the venomous Timber Rattlesnake of NH, the cottonmouth/water moccasin not of NH, and the non-venomous milk snake of NH. The northern water snake is dark, gray body, lots of blotches, black brown, and 2-4’ long with black or red crescents on the stomach. The Northern Water snake darkens as it ages. Females are larger than males.
Their scientific classification is:
Species: Nerodia sipedon
Subspecies: N.s. insularum (Lake Erie water snake)
Subspecies: N.s. pleuralis (Midland water snake)
Subspecies: N.s. sipedon (Northern water snake)
Subspecies: N.s. williamengelsi (Carolina water snake)
Northern Water Snakes will not bother you unless they are provoked. If they are picked up they will bite repeatedly. Their saliva contains a substance that will make bites bleed more, but it poses little risk to humans. They will also release musk, a smelly fume. Their predators include, but are not limited to: birds, raccoons, possums, foxes, snapping turtles, and other snakes. “Minton (1972) listed bass, pickerel, catfish, bullfrogs, herons, mink and raccoons as predators of water snakes in Indiana. Red-shouldered hawks feed on water snakes in Wisconsin.”
Northern Water Snakes mate from April-June. They give birth August to October to 20-40 live young. During the winter they hibernate under or
near the water. The mother leaves the babies to fend for themselves after they are born.
Threats to the Northern Water Snake are loss of habitat and amphibians to eat. They are not on the NH endangered list.
The Northern Water Snake is active day and night. During the day, they hunt in plants at the waters edge for: small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and small birds and mammals. During the night they hunt sleeping minnows and other small fish.
You can find Northern Water Snakes from Southeast Maine to Northeast Colorado to South to North Oklahoma to the north part of the coastal plain states. They live in aquatic to semi-aquatic streams, ponds, swamps, and marshes. They are often found basking on overhanging logs or branches above the water. It is rare to see a Northern Water Snake away from the water.
One of the most commonly confused species with the Northern Water Snake is the Cottonmouth. Also called the Water Moccasin. These are some ways to tell them apart: the Northern Water Snake will try to flee if its territory is invaded. The Cottonmouth will fight. The Northern Water Snake has round eyes compared to the Cottonmouth, which has catlike slits for eyes. The Northern Water Snake holds its head high whereas the Cottonmouth holds its head low. The Northern Water Snake is long and slender, compared to the Cottonmouths short wide body. The Northern Water Snake basks on logs or stumps that are low hanging. The Cottonmouth basks on logs or stumps on the waters edge. The Northern Water Snake moves quicker than the Cottonmouth.
I chose the Northern Water Snake because it is interesting and I knew nothing about it. I really chose NH water snakes but because the Northern Water Snake is the only water snake in NH, I just studied the Northern Water Snake. I enjoyed learning about this animal and I hope I can learn more about water snakes, snakes, and NH animals.
Word count: 656
A Natural History of Amphibians and Reptiles, Richard Carl Vogt, 1981
 A Natural History of Amphibians and Reptiles, Richard Carl Vogt, 1981
 Go to: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/species_distribution_maps/northernwatersnake.pdf to see a map of the Northern Water Snakes range in NH. Go to: www.nhwatersnakes.blogspot.com to see pictures of the Northern Water Snake.