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Our Nonvenomous Diamondback Water Snake

Our Nonvenomous Diamondback Water Snake

What?  No birds this time?  Nope!  We are switching to a creature that strikes fear in many people.  Some won’t even read this article when they see the pictures, and they’ll flip past the pages!  Snakes cause a primal fear in humans, and our native diamondback water snake is no exception.  Big, long, scary, but not venomous nor aggressive!   

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 tall shrubs near East Texas waterways where they bask in the sun, and 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!   Their curiosity is seen by people as aggression, and problems can escalate from there.  Like most wild creatures when threatened, they will strike and bite.  They also hiss and flatten their heads and bodies to appear more menacing.  Make no mistake, these fellows have teeth and can draw blood.  Although they have no venom, they may harbor Salmonella. 

Their heavy bodies and length can give them a lot of ‘WOW’ factor, but if we learn to identify them and understand them, maybe we won’t fear them so much.  They have 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.  If you identify one, give him some space, and show him a newfound admiration for being the biggest native water snake in Texas!   And please remember that 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!

Defining characteristics of the non-venomous diamondback water snake are the strong vertical stripes along the jaw, and a yellow-green chin and belly.  Water moccasins (Cottonmouths) tend to have horizontal stripes along the jaw line, and spotted bellies.

Notice the round eyes of the nonvenomous diamondback water snake.  A venomous water moccasin will have hooded eyes under a heavy brow.

These are the biggest water snakes in Texas, and they can grow to about 6 feet long.  This one is closer to 4 feet.

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