Snakes live throughout the state of Kentucky in just about every kind of environment, but there’s a Genus of snake species that prefers to live in or near the water. It’s these snakes that we’re focusing on for this article, the water snakes in Kentucky. Having said that, all species on this list of Kentucky snakes will fall under the Genus Nerodia, true water snakes. There are currently 9 species in this category with even more subspecies, and 6 of these species or subspecies can be found in Kentucky.
All snakes are capable of swimming in water. While some rarely visit water, others are considered semi-aquatic. All true water snakes are in the Family Colubridae, in the Genus Nerodia, and are non-venomous. Water snakes often have large, heavy bodies and are commonly mistaken for venomous snakes. While they can bite if threatened and are even regarded as aggressive in some cases, they are quite harmless if left alone.
With that being said, let’s have a look at Kentucky’s 6 types of water snakes.
6 Types of water snakes in Kentucky
The 6 species of true water snakes found in Kentucky are the midland water snake, diamond-backed water snake, plain-bellied water snake, brown water snake, banded water snake, salt marsh water snake, and the green water snake.
1. Midland Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon pleuralis
Length: 22-40 inches
The midland water snake is a subspecies of the common water snake that’s found in western Kentucky. Their main prey items are frogs, fish, and even other snakes. Kingsnakes also are known to feed on other snakes. Their coloration is very similar to the copperhead and the cottonmouth, so they’re often mistaken for these two species.
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. 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 Kentucky, this subspecies is most common in central and eastern parts of the state, since the midland water snake subspecies is more common to the west. 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 northern 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.
3. Broad-banded Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia Fasciata
Length: 24-42 inches
The banded water snake inhabits the swamps, rivers and lakes in extreme southwestern Kentucky, near the Mississippi River. 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.
4. Copperbelly Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta
Length: 24-40 inches
Copperbelly water snakes are a subspecies of Nerodia erythrogaster, the plain-bellied water snake, and are named for their bellies, which, while often red, can also be a very plain color. The plain-bellied water snake is also known as the red-bellied water snake. These snakes and all of the subspecies can be heavy-bodied and their bright underbodies make them stand out of other types of water snakes.
They occur in southwestern Kentucky, 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. Mississippi green water snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia cyclopion
Length: 30-55 inches
Green water snakes are also only found in extreme Southwestern Kentucky near the Mississippi River. This species is more common in surrounding states in the Southeast like Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. These medium sized snakes are usually dark green or brown in color and have fairly stout bodies.
Green water snakes thrive in the state’s wetlands and prefer large amounts of vegetation in the water. They’re most active during the day and feed on small fish and amphibians.
When it comes to green water snakes you have Nerodia cyclopion, which is the Mississippi green water snake, and then you have Nerodia floridana, which is the Florida green water snake. From what I can ascertain, the Florida green water snake is not present or very uncommon in Kentucky.
6. 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 most common in southwestern Kentucky. The diamondback water snake enjoys basking on tree limbs above the water and hunting for its prey which includes small amphibians, lizards, mice, etc.