Snakes live throughout the state of Mississippi in just about every kind of environment, but there’s a Genus of snake 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 Mississippi. Having said that, all species on this list of Mississippi snakes (aside from the bonus snake at the end) will fall under the Genus Nerodia, true water snakes. There are 10 main species of water snakes with even more subspecies, and 6 of them can be found in Mississippi.
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 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 Mississippi’s 6 types of water snakes.
6 Types of water snakes in Mississippi
The 6 species of true water snakes found in Mississippi are the midland water snake, diamond-backed water snake, plain-bellied water snake, banded water snake, salt marsh 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 a subspecies of the common water snake that’s found throughout most of Mississippi. 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. Banded Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia Fasciata
Length: 24-42 inches
The banded water snake, more specifically the broad banded water snake which is the western variant of this species, inhabits the swamps, rivers and lakes in western and southern Mississippi. They are more common in Louisiana, eastern Texas, Florida, and north along the coastal plain into the Carolinas.
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. Plain-bellied Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Length: 24-40 inches
Plain-bellied water snakes are named for their bellies, which, while often red, can also be a very plain color. Nerodia erythrogaster is also known as the red-bellied water snake. These snakes can be heavy-bodied and their bright underbodies make them stand out of other types of water snakes.
These snakes occur in most of Mississippi, 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.
4. Mississippi green water snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia cyclopion
Length: 30-55 inches
According to tn.gov, Mississippi green water snakes occur in western Mississippi along 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 extremely scarce in Mississippi.
5. 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.
Diamondback water snakes are common throughout Mississippi. The enjoy basking on tree limbs above the water and hunting for its prey which includes small amphibians, lizards, mice, etc.
6. Salt marsh snake
Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii
Length: 15-30 inches
The salt marsh snake has 3 recognized subspecies; the gulf salt marsh snake, the mangrove salt marsh snake, and the Atlantic salt marsh snake. They live in the brackish waters along the coastal regions from Texas to Florida, including southern Mississippi near the Gulf Shores coastline. Here they feed on a variety of small fish and invertebrates.
They are rather small in size in comparison to other water snakes in the Nerodia Genus of snakes. Primarily active at night, these saltwater snakes are not seen in freshwater and obtain the water they need from their prey. Because of their limited habitat along the coasts, they are not commonly seen in Mississippi unless you live neat the coast.
Are cottonmouths considered water snakes?
Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus
Length: 36-48 inches
When you think of water snakes you likely think of the water moccasin, aka cottonmouth.
However, water moccasins 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 venomous water snakes. In Mississippi, these venomous snakes can be found throughout the state.
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 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.