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Water Snakes in Tennessee

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cottonmouth in water

Water snakes in Tennessee live predominantly near water bodies, including rivers, creeks and lakes, providing water-based food chains with a valuable source of energy. They play a vital role in setting the aquatic ecosystem. They also have a long-standing cultural significance that pre-dates settlers by centuries. Native Americans respected water snakes as spiritual beings or familiars, and even today they invoke admiration from some who appreciate the fortitude water snakes possess to survive and thrive in the wild despite any obstacles they may face.

Water snakes in Tennessee often get misidentified due to how diverse their colouring can be, as there is a wide variety of species found throughout the state. In this article, we will tell you about all the various water snakes in Tennessee.

Smooth Earthsnake

water snakes in Tennessee

Found in watery habitats throughout Tennessee, the Smooth Earthsnake is a small and brightly coloured species native to the state. Its slim body grows up to 9-11 inches in length and usually weighs between 6-12 grams, making them light and agile predators that consume a wide variety of prey including earthworms, slugs, and insects.

They have a vibrant greenish-brown colouration with faint cream stripes encircling their body and although they can become mildly aggressive if cornered, they are not considered dangerous to humans. While density is thought to be low due to their secretive behaviour, their lifespan can range from 3–6 years when living under proper conditions of food availability and water availability.

Cottonmouth

cottonmouths

Cottonmouths, also commonly referred to as water moccasins, are reptilian creatures that inhabit parts of Tennessee. Native to warm, freshwater habitats such as swamps and streams, their average lifespan is 10 to 12 years. Charcoal grey in colour, this species feeds mainly on fish and small mammals like frogs, rodents, and lizards.

Adults grow between three and five feet in length and can weigh up to 10 to 12 pounds. As apex predators, they have very few natural predators – the only real threat being larger aquatic animals like alligators and otters.

What makes this particular species especially dangerous to humans is the fact that they’re highly venomous. While they usually choose flight over fight if confronted with humans, it’s best not to go near one or agitate them needlessly – a bite could prove to be serious.

Eastern Ribbonsnake

 eastern ribbonsnake

The Eastern Ribbonsnake is an intriguing reptile that exhibits a bewildering array of characteristics. These snakes primarily inhabit moist wetlands and floodplains, but can also be found in open woods and meadows. With a lifespan averaging around 8-10 years, this species typically exhibits a green aquatic hue with yellow stripes on its back.

An omnivorous diet consisting of frogs, tadpoles, reptiles and amphibians is typical for Eastern Ribbonsnake; achieving a length of 3 to 4 feet and weighing just under 1 pound at maturity. Despite being nonvenomous, contact with humans should be avoided as defensive bites can occur when the snake is feeling threatened. Interestingly enough, these species are often preyed upon by hawks and owls.

The Western Ribbon Snake 

western ribbon snake

The Western Ribbon Snake is a species of water snake in Tennessee, ranging between 20 and 37 inches in length. They prefer to live in wetlands or near water sources, migrating seasonally to broad distances throughout the state as temperatures change. Usually seen in olive/brown colours, they are also found in shades of yellow and tan with alternating black stripes running the length of their body.

As creatures that eat mostly frogs, tadpoles, fish and small reptiles like lizards, they are rather carnivorous. This slender species can reach up to one pound in weight at its maximum size, relying on lightning-quick movements to catch unsuspecting prey. While they may be predated by birds or mammals such as foxes, this species possesses no venom and poses minimal dangers to humans unless handled recklessly.

Common Garter Snake

common garter snake

The common garter snake is a species of snake found mainly in Tennessee, though there are some populations living in parts of neighbouring states as well. These snakes typically reach about two to three feet in length with a slender body and distinctive black and yellow stripes running along their length. They have smooth scales, which vary in colour from dull greens and yellows to deep browns and blacks.

When it comes to diet, common garter snakes rely on a variety of insects and amphibians as their primary source of prey, including earthworms, slugs, and frogs. As for predators, adult garter snakes can be preyed upon by larger animals such as birds of prey, mammals like foxes and coyotes, and even other large snakes like rattlesnakes or water moccasins.

Although it’s not particularly dangerous to humans (and is actually nonvenomous!), contact with a startled common garter snake may sometimes result in a bite that causes slight irritation or discomfort due to its mild venom.

Mississippi Green Water Snake

mississippi green water snake

The Mississippi Green Water Snake is a small nonvenomous reptile found in Tennessee and other parts of the southeast United States. It can grow up to two and a half feet long, weighing an average of just over one pound. This species usually has a uniform olive-green colour with small black spots and blotches but sometimes also appears yellow or brown.

They live mainly in humid woodlands and wetlands but can be found near lakes and streams, especially around vegetation like logs, rocks and shrubs. The primary diet of this snake is fish, amphibians and insects, though they will feed on other small animals like lizards or rodents if they have to.

Although, it is not dangerous to humans as it will rarely bite unless disturbed. In terms of lifespan, captures showed that some individuals may have lived up to twelve years in captivity. 

Plain-bellied Water Snake

plain-bellied water snakes

The Plain-bellied Water Snakes can be found in freshwater streams, marshes, and swamps throughout Tennessee. While their lifespan is up to ten years, adults typically range from 2-3 feet in length and can weigh up to three pounds or more. These aquatic snakes are olive or brownish-grey with a yellow underbelly; the colouration camouflages them in the murky depths of the surrounding water.

Their diet consists primarily of fish, frogs, and crayfish; additionally, they’ll also consume smaller snakes such as minnows. Despite being harmless to humans and nonvenomous, these reptiles can become especially scary if handled without proper caution due to their aggressive nature when threatened.

Diamond-backed Water Snake

diamond-backed water snake

The diamond-backed water snake is a large, nonvenomous species found inhabiting the wetlands of Tennessee. This species can grow to be over four feet long and can weigh up to a pound. These snakes are olive or brown in colour and have solid black spots running across their dorsal sides.

Popular habitats for these aquatic predators include slow-moving waters such as those found in bogs, lakes, ponds and streams – making them strong swimmers. Their diet consists mainly of fish, amphibians, molluscs and crayfish which they catch with great agility before devouring.

This species is not particularly dangerous to humans although they may bite if provoked or harassed. Diamond-backed water snakes typically live between 2-10 years in the wild but they can survive up to 15 years under captivity conditions.

Southern Water Snake

southern water snake

The Southern Water Snake is a fascinating reptile with a unique combination of features that give it remarkable adaptations in its natural environment. Found primarily in the state of Tennessee and across the Deep South, they can be found inhabiting bodies of fresh water such as swamps, marshes, rivers, and creeks.

With lifespans reaching up to 10 years or more and a medium-sized body length between 20-50 inches, this common snake often exhibits an even brownish or greyish colouring along its slender structures with its mild pattern ranging from blood red to black stripes.

With many prey species including small fish and other aquatic creatures often pinned down by rattling movements in shallow waters, the Southern Water Snake is considered nonvenomous but their defensive mechanisms still make them dangerous when approached by humans.

The Northern Water Snake

northern water snake

The Northern Water Snake is one of the most common reptiles to call Tennessee it’s home. They tend to live near freshwaters, such as ponds, marshes, and lakes. With a lifespan of 8 years – 9 years on average, these snakes typically reach a length of up to 3 feet and can weigh upwards of 2 pounds.

As far as colour goes, they come in an array of unique patterns like reddish browns, grey/black combinations, creamy oranges and yellow hues; however, it’s important to note that many have a banded pattern that resembles venomous water moccasins.

While not venomous themselves, these predators are scavengers who feast mostly on fish, frogs and invertebrates they find while hunting near the water’s edge. Northern Water Snakes will bite out of fear or intimidation. 

Final Words

Tennessee is home to a handful of species of water snakes, some of which are rare and even endangered. Along rocky riverbanks and deep coves, these semi-aquatic locales provide perfect habitats for Cottonmouths, Northern Water Snakes, and other water snakes. Though feared and sometimes even persecuted due to common misconceptions, water snakes are harmless animals who should be respected in their environment.

Considering many populations throughout Tennessee remain vulnerable, it is important to not only protect them from harm but also endeavour to maintain the health of their habitats.

References:

https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes/northern-watersnake.html
https://www.wbir.com/article/tech/science/environment/hiss-here-are-the-four-venomous-snakes-of-tennessee/51-56230584
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Author Profile
Jeevan Kodiyan
Zoologist | Wildlife Conservation at Animals Research

An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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