Snakes live throughout the state of Arkansas in just about every kind of environment, but there are several species that prefer to live in or near the water. It’s these snakes that we’re focusing on for this article, the water snakes in Arkansas.
All snakes are capable of swimming in water. While some rarely visit water, others are considered semi-aquatic. For the purposes of this article we are covering the Genus Nerodia, as they are what’s referred to as water snakes. These snakes are in the Family Colubridae and are non-venomous. Water snakes often have large, heavy bodies and are commonly mistaken for venomous snakes. While they can bite if threatened, they are quite harmless if left alone.
With that being said, let’s have a look at Arkansas’ 6 types of water snakes.
6 Types of water snakes in Arkansas
The 6 species of water snakes found in Arkansas are the Diamondback water snake, midland water snake, red-bellied water snake, northern water snake, banded water snake, and the Mississippi green water snake.
1. Midland Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis
Length: 22-40 inches
The midland water snake is found throughout much of Arkansas. Their main prey items are frogs, fish, and even other snakes. Their coloration is very similar to the copperhead and the cottonmouth, so they’re often mistaken for these two species.
Like all other snakes in the Genus Nerodia, midland water snakes are non-venomous and kill their prey with constriction. They often mimic the behaviors of venomous cottonmouths, though, because their similar color patterns can fool potential predators into thinking they’re more dangerous than they really are.
2. Banded Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia Fasciata
Length: 24-42 inches
The banded water snake inhabits the swamps, rivers and lakes in most of Arkansas, though not as common in northwestern parts of the state. They are known to sometimes interbreed with midland water snakes. Although they are harmless and non-venomous, they have a wide, flat head and dark coloration which makes them look very similar to a cottonmouth, a species with which they often share habitat.
Like the midland water snake, the banded water snake favors frogs and fish for prey. Banded water snakes can sometimes behave aggressively, counting on their venomous appearance to deter potential predators. This aggressive behavior is likely the source of the many myths about cottonmouth snakes, which actually tend to be quite reclusive.
3. Diamondback water snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia rhombifer
Length: 3-5 feet
The diamondback water snake is predominantly brown, dark brown or dark olive green, with a black pattern along the back, each spot being diamond-shaped. Their scales are a very rough texture and they typically grow to be about 3-4 feet long, though in some cases bigger. The underside is often a yellow or light brown color.
This snake is often confused for a venomous snake, but like all other water snakes diamondback water snakes are not venomous. They are an aggressive snake though and will release musk and fecal matter if provoked.
They are common in Arkansas, but especially in the eastern half of the state. The diamondback water snake enjoys basking on tree limbs above the water and hunting for its prey which includes small amphibians, lizards, mice, etc.
4. Red-bellied Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Length: 24-40 inches
Red-bellied water snakes are named for their bellies that are often red, but can also be a very plain color which is why they are also called the plain-bellied water snake. Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster, the red-bellied water snake, is a subspecies of Nerodia erythrogaster which is the plain-bellied water snake.
These snakes live in most of Arkansas, especially in lakes and swamps but also in rivers. They’re unusual for water snakes in that they will frequently travel long distances over land to a new body of water.
They’re also largely nocturnal, preferring to hunt during the night and spending the whole day basking in the sun. Like other water snakes, they will bite repeatedly to defend themselves, even though they aren’t venomous.
5. Green Water Snake
Scientific name: Nerodia cyclopion
Length: 2.5 – 3.5 feet
The green water snake, also sometimes called the Mississippi green water snake, can be found in Eastern Arkansas within proximity of the Mississippi River. This snake grows to be between 2 and a half feet to 3 and a half feet long and is mostly green or brown with dim black crossbars. Their belly features light spots on grey or brown. Females are typically larger than males and their scales are ridged.
This aquatic snake loves water, but is usually found basking on logs or brush. They are mostly active during the day and feed in the evening on small reptiles, fish, and small animals.
6. Northern water snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon
Length: 22 – 53 in
The Northern Water Snake, a subspecies of the common water snake, can be found throughout northern-central and northeastern North America. In Arkansas, the northern subspecies only found in the extreme northwestern corner of the state, since the midland water snake subspecies is more common throughout the state. These snakes enjoy living as close to water as possible. Often, they’ll live in beaver lodges or muskrat houses, as they prefer living in sticks and plants near the water.
The Common Water Snake lives near rivers, lakes, ponds, canals, and marshes. Often, you may see these types of snakes basking in the sun on logs, rocks, or on land beside the water. These snakes may be active anytime, but tend to lounge around in the day and prefer to hunt at night. Their diet mainly consists of small fish, frogs, and worms. They’ll also eat small mammals and birds, though, when they hunt outside of the water.
Bonus: water moccasin
Non-venomous water snakes are commonly mistaken for the cottonmouth and killed because of it.
Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
Length: 36-48 inches
When you think of water snakes you likely think of the water moccasin, aka cottonmouth, though they aren’t technically water snakes in the Genus Nerodia. Cottonmouths are infamous, and have an undeserved reputation as aggressive snakes. They never venture far from the water and are often seen swimming, which kind of makes them seem like water snakes.
Water moccasins are dark brown or black on top and the same on their bellies. Younger snakes can have a light pattern on their backs but tend to get darker as they mature. They feed on fish, amphibians, and reptiles just like regular water snakes. Cottonmouths however are highly venomous and a bite should be treated quickly. If you see one or aren’t sure what species it is, when in doubt you should always avoid snakes just to be safe.
Cottonmouths are common throughout Arkansas.