While all snakes are adept swimmers, some prefer water more than land. The species on the following list of water snakes in Maine fall under the Genus Nerodia, more commonly referred to as water snakes. Water snakes are nonvenomous colubrid snakes that exhibit highly aquatic behavior. The Genus includes 9 total species, and all are native to North America.
Maine has many favorable habitats for wildlife of all types, including the state’s 9 species of snakes. Let’s take at the one and only type of water snake you can find in the state of Maine!
The Water Snakes in Maine
Maine may be home to 9 species of snake, but only one type of water snake. The only species of snake from the Genus Nerodia that you’ll find in Maine is the common water snake, more specifically the northern water snake. We will use these names interchangeably throughout this article, but they are basically the same species. They, along with the garter snake, are Maine’s most common snake and are actually very populous in the area.
Northern water snake
Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon sipedon
Adult size: 4-5 feet
The northern water snake is actually a subspecies of the common water snakes and comes in a variation of colors, including gray, tan, brown and buff. Juveniles are usually more brightly colored than adults. Adults have dark dorsal bands along their back that are present on the anterior portion of the body.
The further down their body you go, the colors change to alternating dorsal and lateral blotches. Their ventral scales, which are on their underbelly, have dark, crescent-moon shaped markings. This is just a guideline for this snake, many other types of water snakes can look very similar!
Northern water snakes range in size from 24 to 55 inches, approximately two feet to four and a half feet. As mentioned, they are fairly dark-colored. Adult females are larger than males most often. Females are live-bearers and breed April through June. Live-bearing means they do not lay eggs, they produce live snakes, often around 12-36 babies, in the late August to early October time frame.
They are found most anywhere there is water. Specifically, they are easily found throughout the eastern half of the United States, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. They are not endangered and are actually quite a heavily populated snack in their native areas.
Habitats and diet
Northern water snakes are not picky and like a wide variety of aquatic habitats. They do prefer slow-moving or standing water, such as ponds, lakes, and marshes, but can also be found on rivers and basically any wetland area.
These snakes spend their time swimming below the water or basking on rocks in the sun. They prefer areas more directly exposed to the sun, so shady areas should be relatively clear of this snake. The northern water snake can also be found hanging out in trees and laying out on branches.
For their diet, these snakes primarily eat fish and amphibians, swallowing them alive. They commonly eat sunfish, smallmouth bass, minnows, toads, frogs, bullfrog tadpoles, trout, catfish, etc. But they’re not picky eaters, they will eat most any animal they find. This actually makes them quite a beneficial species to have around, as they will clear out pests such as mice and rodents.
While the northern water snake isn’t venomous, they are still a wild snake and are not exactly friendly. In fact, they are quite the opposite. The common water snake is known to be fairly aggressive and will bite when handled. This bite will not cause any major harm, as they are non-venomous, but most people will still want to avoid a nasty snake bite.
The common water snake’s main defense when feeling threatened is their production of a musky secretion from the glands near their tail. They may also defecate or vomit. It’s best to always leave any snake in their natural habitat alone to avoid an unfortunate encounter.
Northern water snakes are mostly solitary animals and are primary diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day, though they will hunt at night. They hibernate in the winter and are most social immediately before and after hibernation. Quarantine vibes, anyone? During this time, you may see groups of common water snakes basking together on rocks and enjoying the sun.
Venomous snakes in Maine?
Common water snakes are non-venomous, and though they can be angry to be disturbed, will not cause much harm. Their coloring is similar to a few species of venomous snakes, but there are no venomous snakes in the state of Maine.
The most common venomous snake the northern water snake is confused for is the cottonmouth. This species is a large, venomous snake that isn’t even found in Maine, but is common in many other areas. The two do look quite similar, so it’s easy to see where the confusion comes from and how concern could be raised when you encounter an unknown species.