Fishin’ Hole Nature

The Slithery Dee – The Non-Venomous Diamondback Water Snake

What? No birds this time? Nope! We are switching to a creature that strikes outright fear into most people. Some won’t even read this article when they see the pictures, and they’ll flip past the pages lickety-split! Snakes cause a primal fear in humans, and our native diamondback water snake is no exception. Big, long, scary, but not venomous!

Native to the US, the diamondback water snake is our largest endemic water snake and can grow to just under 6 feet long! Common throughout the southeastern states and the lower Midwest, these fellows are valuable members of our ecosystem. They live near calm water and are found in lakes, creeks, rivers and even stock ponds and ditches. We see them on tree branches or in tall shrubs around Lake Livingston where they can bask in the sun, but then slip into the water to nab some lunch. They usually hunt as they swim along, or may drop just their heads under water as they lounge on low branches. Frogs, fish, toads, and lizards make up much of their diet.

Because they are snakes, they are often killed out of fear of being venomous. These particular fellows are actually not very shy, and may rise up vertically while swimming alongside your boat just to peek in! One may even try to climb right in with you! Their curiosity is seen by people as aggression, and problems can escalate from there. Like most wild creatures they can strike and bite when threatened. They also hiss, and flatten their bodies and heads to appear more menacing. Make no mistake, these fellows have teeth and can draw blood. Although they have no venom, they may harbor Salmonella like other wild lizards, toads and turtles.

If we learn to identify them, maybe we won’t fear them so much. Look for the strong dark vertical stripes on the sides of their jaws, round eyes, yellow-green coloring on their chins, throats and bellies, dark vertical stripes on their sides and dark diamond shapes along their backs. Finally, their heavy bodies and length can give them a lot of ‘WOW’ factor. If you identify one, give him some space, and show him a new found admiration for being the biggest native water snake in Texas! Remember…they are not venomous!

Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!

— Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist