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Water Snakes In Virginia

There are three water snakes in Virginia that are endemic to the state and include the brown water snake, the northern water snake, and finally the plain-bellied water snake. These species are nonvenomous and generally harmless.

In addition to this, these are colubrid snakes of the genus Nerodia. These snakes can be found throughout the state of Virginia in every municipality and county.

These reptiles inhabit all manners of aquatic environments such as rivers, streams, fitches, reservoirs, and even backyard pond, so be on the lookout.

The northern water snake is the most widespread of the three. No wonder, it is also called the common water snake. The brown watersnake is the longest with average lengths of 5 ft.

Water Snakes In Virginia

1. Brown Watersnake

Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota)
Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota)

The nonvenomous and harmless N. taxispilota is one of three water snakes endemic to Virginia. This snake can reach lengths of 60 inches which the longest recorded specimen reaching a length of 69 inches.

As you can see this is a long snake. N. taxispilota has a light tan base with black square patterns on its back. Apart from these dorsal patterns, the snake has dark square patterns that extend from its belly up its side.

Their head is fairly wide and its eyes and nostrils quite high on the head. This is advantageous. Adult females are generally larger than adult males.  Unfortunately for them though, their head makes them look like other venomous snakes located in its geographical range which causes them to be killed sometimes out of fear.

Since this snake is semi-aquatic, it spends just as much time in the water as it does out of water. They can be found in lakes, streams rivers, and other water bodies. These snakes also need to bask.

The brown water snake is carnivorous (mostly piscivorous) and feeds mostly on catfish. They also eat frogs, turtles, lizards, and other smaller fish. As pets, they typically only accept fish, and maybe frogs.

So if you have a pet frog, they definitely shouldnt be in the same enclosure or area.

Younglings should be fed once every 7 to 10 days, and adults once every 14 days. Each meal should be similar in size to the largest part of the snake. You should not handle the snake for at least 48 hours after feeding it. 

A captive specimen is relatively easy to care for as long as you keep humidity levels high. Beginners generally struggle to keep humidity levels high enough. There is equipment to help with that including both foggers, misting systems and then hand misters.

A fogger is different from a misting system. Basically a misting system is like artificial rain while a fogger creates a humid fog.

If you plan on keeping this snake in a tank, the size should be about 40×18 inches (floor size) for an adult. You also need to provide a large tub of water for the snake to swim/rest in.

Most importantly, the humidity level needs to be high (50 to 70 percent). The enclosure also needs a warm and cool end. You can use a heat pad on one side for this connected to a thermostat.

You also need to provide ample hiding spots for the snake. You can use snake hides or create a nice enclosure using stones, branches, and other natural items found in nature.

N. taxispilota is classified as of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Similarly, they have no special status on the US Federal List and CITES.

The two main threats to this snake in Virginia include environmental pollution and hunting (they are known to be shot for sport).

2. Plain-Bellied Watersnake

Plain Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia_erythrogaster)
Plain Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia_erythrogaster)

The plain-bellied watersnake is an interesting snake as it is unpatterned and rather plain-looking.

This snake can reach lengths of 62 inches, however, in Virginia, the largest specimen recorded reached a length of 58 inches. The average adult weight of this snake is 516 grams for females and 286 grams for males.

Plain-bellied water snakes are typically solid-colored (usually tan to black). Underside colors include olive-gray, black tan, gray, and even pink.  In the case of Virginian plain-bellied watersnakes, the underside is usually reddish/pink.

N. erythrogaster is semiaquatic and inhabits both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Regardless of where they live, they are never too far from a water body.

However, unlike other water snakes, plain-bellied water snakes can be found several hundred meters from any aquatic environment. Aquatic biomes include rivers, lakes, ponds, small rivers, temporary pools & ponds, and even streams.

Terrestrial biomes include scrublands, grasslands, and forests. They can also be found n swamps, bogs, and marshes. N. erythrogaster feeds on fish, amphibians, aquatic crustaceans, and even carrion.

N. erythrogaster is viviparous, meaning they bear live young instead of laying eggs. The species bear anywhere from 5 to 40 young. The sex of the young is determined by genes and not temperature. Females breed once a year and copulation occurs from April to June.

If you want to keep the northern water snake as a pet, you need a large enclosure with a large tub of water. The humidity needs to be above 50 %.

The enclosure also requires substrate (this can be shredded paper or aspen wood shavings). There also needs to be a temperature gradient with the cool side having temperatures ranging between 70 to 75 F and the warm end having a temperature of around 85 F.

N. erythrogaster is a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, the species is listed as Threatened on the US Federal List.

The main threats to the species include the collection of wild specimens (which is illegal without a permit under the Endangered Species Act), habitat destruction (caused by pollution), and predation (this is because their migration routes are interrupted by farmlands, roads, and mowed areas where they are exposed and vulnerable).

Check out our snake laws guide for more on the laws of owning a pet snake.

3. Northern Watersnake

Midland water snake
Northern water snake (Nerodia Sipedon pleuralis) in a coil
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon
  • Other Names: common water snake, common northern water snake, brown water snake, black water snake, black water adder, banded water snake, water snake, water pilot, streaked snake, spotted water snake, northern water snake, northern banded water snake, North American water snake, and eastern water snake
  • Adult Size: 24 to 53 inches
  • Lifespan: 10 to 15 years
  • Average Price Range: $30
  • Where to buy: Backwater Reptiles
  • Recommended Books: Garter Snakes and Water Snakes: From The Experts At Advanced Vivarium Systems by David Perlowin

The northern water snake is commonly called the common water snake. This snake is nonvenomous and harmless. This snake will try to escape any humans that it comes across.

Although N. sipedon can grow to lengths of 53 inches, on average, an adult is 25 inches in length. In terms of weight, adults weigh anywhere between 80 grams and 409 grams.

The largest specimen on record weighed 560 grams. N. sipedon is usually black, brown, reddish, or gray with darker crossbands on the neck and dark blotches all over the body.

This color scheme and pattern means that the snake is commonly confused with the venomous copperhead and cottonmouth. However, unlike both venomous snakes, N. sipedon has no heat-sensing pits and has round pupils, a flattened head, and a slender body.

N. sipedon has four subspecies. These include the northern watersnake (N. s. sipedon), which is the nominate subspecies and the subspecies native to Virginia.

Other subspecies include the Lake Erie watersnake (N. s. insularum), midland watersnake (N. s. pleuralis), and Carolina watersnake (N. s. williamengelsi).

N. sipedon can be found in all types of freshwater habitats. These include marshes, bogs, impoundments rivers, ponds, lakes, and even streams.

Water snakes don’t spend all their time underwater and prefer to bask in the sun on the shore or a log. When not basking, they seek cover under rocks, logs, and such.

If your going to keep one as a pet, you need a large and humid enclosure. Similar to the brown water snake, this snake doesn’t need a tank full of water but rather a dry enclosure with a large water tub for the snake to rest and swim in when needed.

This snake eats a wide range of foods. They are known to mostly eat terrestrial animals such as mice, birds, snakes, frogs, turtles, and other reptiles. They also eat fish, large insects, crustaceans, and carrion.

N. sipedon is a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. According to IUCN Red List, the wild population is stable and the snakes are abundant through their geographical range. These snakes also hold no special status on the US Federal List.

The species is usually confused for rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads. This usually results in the dead of individual northern water snakes. Although the common watersnake may bite when disturbed, the bites are nonvenomous.


The three water snakes in Virginia mentioned above, include the northern watersnake, the plain-bellied watersnake, and the brown watersnake. These snakes are nonvenomous and just want to be left alone.

Unfortunately, the northern watersnake is usually misidentified as the cottonmouth, which is a venomous snake. However, unlike the cottonmouth, the northern watersnake swims below the water surface while the cottonmouth floats on the water.

Regardless, even cottonmouths usually choose flight over fight when they encounter humans. The three watersnakes can also be kept as pets.

If you are looking to keep a snake as a pet, you should only buy one from a reputable captive bred breeder. Captive bred species are healthier, and easier to care for, and don’t impact the environment or survival of the species.

For other options, have a look at our best pet snakes list to see some great options for pet snakes.

Snakes in other states

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