A variety of snakes live throughout the state of Kansas 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 Kansas.
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.
Out of the 10 species of water snakes in the United States, let’s have a look at the 3 that call Kansas home.
3 species of water snakes in Kansas
The 3 types of water snakes found in Kansas are the northern water snake, diamondback water snake, plain-bellied water snake.
1. 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 Kansas, it’s common throughout most of 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.
2. 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 occur in the southeastern portion of Kansas. The diamondback water snake enjoys basking on tree limbs above the water and hunting for its prey which includes small amphibians, lizards, mice, etc.
3. Plain-bellied Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Length: 24-40 inches
Plain-bellied water snakes are named for their bellies that are often red, but can also be a very plain color. There are 6 subspecies including a redbelly, yellowbelly, and a copperbelly water snake.
Like the diamondback, these snakes live in southeastern areas of Kansas, 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.