Plain-Bellied Water Snake Control (Nerodia erythrogaster)
Many water snakes are actually harmless, despite the fears raised by the cottonmouth or water moccasin. Plain-bellied water snakes are one of those harmless-to-humans, nonvenomous water snakes. And while you probably don’t want to go around chasing them down and picking them up, they are a valuable part of the ecosystem. If you suspect that you have these snakes on your property, here’s how to identify them and how to deal with their presence, Note: We suggest that you have a animal removal professioal handle these types of snakes.
Plain-Bellied Water Snake Identification
The plain-bellied water snake is heavy-bodied, and gets to be about 2-5 feet long when full-grown. It’s a plain reddish-brown, brown, greenish, or gray in color, becoming lighter on sides. Some populations have light crossbars with dark borders down their back. Their underbelly is more vivid, but unpatterned: plain red, orange, or yellow; occasionally belly scales have dark edges. Juveniles have vivid dark blotches down back, alternating with dark crossbars on sides.
They are found from southern Delaware into northern Florida, west through Alabama into Texas and New Mexico, north to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Scattered populations occur in Michigan, Ohio, and eastern Iowa. Plain-bellied water snakes are considered to be Threatened or Endangered in several states.
Plain-Bellied Water Snake Behavior
Plain-bellied water snakes are reported to wander farther distances from the water’s edge than other water snake species; some have been found in wet forests while moving from pool to pool. They are more often seen basking in shrubs, fallen trees, or vegetation over the water. They may also bask on the banks and use rocks, logs, or other debris for shelter. When hunting, they anchor themselves in the vegetation and fish with the mouth opened to the current, grabbing any small fish that happens by. They also eat frogs and tadpoles, baby turtles, young snakes, worms, leeches, crayfish, and small mammals. In turn, its predators (animals that prey upon the snake) include egrets, herons and crabs.
Active in the early evening, plain-bellies are often seen crossing roads on warm rainy or humid nights. Later they sleep high in the branches of trees overhanging streams.
Distinguishing Plain-Bellied Water Snakes from Cottonmouths / Water Moccasins
The easiest way to distinguish nonvenomous water snakes (Nerodia spp.) from cottonmouths or water moccasins is by their behavior when approached. Water snakes almost always flee quickly into the water when threatened, while cottonmouths often will stand their ground and perform their threat display, which includes vibrating its tail and throwing its head back with its mouth opened to show the startling white interior, hissing and pulling the upper body into an S-shape. Other threat display behaviors include flattening its body, and emitting a foul-smelling substance from the base of its tail. Water snakes are not always wallflowers, however. When picked up, they readily and repeatedly bite, and while they’re nonvenomous, they have a lot of teeth and their bites can be painful.
Another way to distinguish harmless water snakes from cottonmouths is by looking at their eyes; water snakes have round pupils, while cottonmouths have vertical, cat-like pupils. When swimming or crawling, another distinguishing characteristic is that cottonmouths will hold their heads up high, at an angle of about 45 degrees, while watersnakes will keep their heads more or less level with the water or ground.
Here’s an excerpt from an excellent guide published by the Georgia DNR:
· Water moccasins, or "cottonmouths," are relatively short and wide. Water snakes are longer and more slender.
· Water moccasins bask on land, or on logs and stumps near water surface; water snakes are good climbers and spend a lot of time basking on branches hanging over water.
· Water moccasins move slowly and defend their territory while water snakes move quickly away from disturbances.
· When swimming, cottonmouths keep their heads elevated above the water and bodies riding nearly on the water surface. Water snakes keep their head and body low and below the water surface.
· Cottonmouths always cock their heads at a 45 degree angle on land. Water snakes keep their heads level with the ground.
Plain Bellied Water Snake Control and Exclusion
Repellents, whether ultrasonic, scent-based or flavor-based, are universally ineffective. Inexpertly placed glue traps can catch and injure non-target animals, leaving you to deal with the problem of freeing those animals without getting injured yourself.
More effective are habitat modification techniques. For water snakes, this may include cutting long grass by the water banks, and cutting back branches overhanging water. However, these measures may degrade water quality in the long term, reducing or eliminating populations of desired animals such as fish, frogs, birds, and turtles.
To keep water snakes out of your home or building, here are some effective measures to take:
· Structural gaps and crevices larger than 1/4 inch and within three feet of grade should be closed off; snakes can pass through very small openings.
· Screens on crawlspace vents should have mesh smaller than 1/4 inch.
· A thorough search should be made for cracks in the foundation, unscreened crawlspace vents, torn screens, and gaps around basement window frames.
· Check clearances under doors; seal any gaps with weatherstripping.
· Look for improper sealing where plumbing and utility lines penetrate the foundation of the building.
If you need to reduce water snake populations on your property, it is best to call in an experienced professional in water snake trapping and removal. They can remove water snakes quickly and efficiently, leaving you to enjoy the outdoors in peace.