Snakes live throughout the state of South Carolina 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 South Carolina.
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 South Carolina’s 6 types of water snakes.
6 Types of water snakes in South Carolina
The 6 species of water snakes found in South Carolina are the midland water snake, red-bellied water snake, brown water snake, northern water snake, banded 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 found in areas of Northwestern South Carolina. 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 inhabits the swamps, rivers and lakes in Eastern South Carolina. 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. Brown Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia taxispilota
Length: 30-60 inches
Brown Water Snakes are one of the larger species of water snakes in South Carolina, and prefer large rivers where they can hunt catfish, their favorite prey. It’s a heavy-bodied species with dark brown colors which, much like the banded and midland water snakes, makes it look very similar to the cottonmouth and other venomous snakes.
Brown water snakes often prefer to bask on tree branches over the water rather than on the ground, so they’re a common sight in trees along the riverbank. This habit means that they often end up in people’s boats, as startled snakes try to jump straight from the branch into the water. They aren’t venomous, but they will bite to defend themselves and they have many very sharp teeth.
4. Red-bellied Water Snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia erythrogaster
Length: 24-40 inches
Red-bellied water snakes are named for their bellies, which, while often red, can also be a very plain color. 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 South Carolina, 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 floridana
Length: 30-55 inches
Green water snakes are mainly found in Florida, though a population of this species is found in Southern South Carolina and extreme Eastern Georgia. These medium sized snakes are usually dark green or brown in color and have fairly stout bodies.
Green water snakes thrive in Florida’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. Florida green water snakes are not constrictors, they simply overpower their prey and quickly swallow them.
6. Northern water snake
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon
Length: 22 – 53 in
The Common Water Snake, also called the Northern Water Snake, can be found throughout central and eastern North America. In South Carolina, they’re only found in extreme northwestern parts of the state near the border. 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.
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 venomous water snakes in South Carolina.
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.