11 Water Snakes in Virginia (with Pictures)

Virginia’s waters are often home to species of snake whose lives revolve around aquatic environments. They stay in this habitat because they hunt animals that live near water, just like themselves.

Water snakes in Virginia that we know of are:

  • Cottonmouth
  • Eastern Copperhead
  • Eastern Racer
  • Mud Snake
  • Glossy Crayfish Snake
  • Queen Snake
  • Rainbow Snake
  • Rough Green Snake
  • Brown Water Snake
  • Common Water Snake
  • Plain-bellied Water Snake

Table of Contents

1. Cottonmouth

Scientific name: Agkistrodon piscivorus

Even though only the last three entries on the list are ‘true water snakes’, belonging to the Nerodia genus, colloquially, we consider all snakes that live in lakes, swamps, streams, and other bodies of water to be water snakes.

Cottonmouth is the first of those animals, and they usually live in the southeastern pocket of Virginia, where they inhabit calm lakes and streams. They’re one of the most aquatic snakes in the world, very rarely leaving the water.

However, they’re not limited to water, and they will leave it to mate, lay eggs, and digest their meals. They primarily hunt for fish, small mammals, birds, and even other snakes.

  • Size: 30 inches on average, no more than 35 inches – they’re very thick and heavy.
  • Color: very dark, be it dark brown or black. A color pattern of lighter coloring on the back.
  • Venom: rarely lethal for humans, but it can cause serious tissue damage if not treated quickly, sometimes requiring amputation.
  • Food: fish, frogs, small mammals, birds, and other snakes.

2. Eastern Copperhead

Scientific name: Agkistrodon contortrix

Also known as just the copperhead, this venomous snake is found all over the Old Dominion, but it hasn’t been reported in counties Tazewell, Wythe and Grayson. However, it’s entirely possible that they’ve spread there now too.

They can live in every environment found in Virginia, so finding them in a lake is as like finding them in forests. Thankfully, they’re very secretive and avoid people if possible, so they won’t approach urban environments.

  • Size: about 3 feet.
  • Color: a combination of pink, red, and copper – bands covering the entire body.
  • Venom: not lethal for humans, but it will cause pain and swelling.
  • Food: small animals – rodents, lizards, birds, and other snakes.

3. Eastern Racer

Scientific name: Coluber constrictor

This quick species, also known as the ‘black racer’ is found in the entire state of Virginia, but it’s more rare in the southwestern counties. They’re found frequenting ditches, lakes, and slow-moving streams, staying close to wet environments.

They’re well-known for being a very quick species, achieving speeds near 10 miles an hour (which is incredible for a snake), while they’re also great tree climbers – this makes them very difficult to catch.

  • Size: no more than 60 inches.
  • Color: mostly black.
  • Venom: none, they swallow live prey.
  • Food: small rodents, frogs, and lizards.

4. Mud Snake

Scientific name: Farancia abacura

The southeastern counties of the Mother of Presidents are home to the mud snake, also known as the ‘eastern mud snake’. This non-venomous species is almost completely aquatic, leaving water only to lay eggs and hibernate during winter.

They’re nocturnal, hunting on giant salamanders, but also on earthworms, frogs, and fish. Like many other snakes on this list – they swallow live prey after catching it.

  • Size: up to 54 inches, but a record-holder is 80 inches long.
  • Color: entirely black with a red underside.
  • Venom: none, they swallow live prey.
  • Food: mostly salamanders, but also frogs and fish.

5. Glossy Crayfish Snake

Scientific name: Liodytes rigida rigida

Also known as the ‘glossy swamp snake’, this species has only been reported in the New Kent county of Virginia, where it mainly inhabits swamps and swamp-like environments.

They’re semiaquatic snakes, leaving water to sunbathe and mate. However, they feed mostly on crayfish, but they’ll eat frogs and salamanders when there isn’t enough crayfish on hand.

  • Size: up to 24 inches.
  • Color: brown to olive-brown, glossy.
  • Venom: none, they swallow live food.
  • Food: almost exclusively crayfish, but frogs and salamanders too if there isn’t enough crayfish.

6. Queen Snake

Scientific name: Regina septemvittata

Scattered across the entire state, you can find the queen snake in all counties except for the eastern third of Virginia. There, they’re indicators of water quality, since they only inhabit clean waters.

This is because they too eat crayfish, which usually comprises more than 90% of this snake’s diet. The queen snake is active during the day, unlike many other snake species, and it usually rests during the night.

  • Size: about 24 inches long.
  • Color: dark gray and brown – sometimes olive green.
  • Venom: none, they swallow live food.
  • Food: almost exclusively crayfish.

7. Rainbow Snake

Scientific name: Farancia erytrogramma

Found in a series of counties from Caroline county to Southampton, but also Virginia Beach – the rainbow snake is a highly aquatic animal. They spend the entirety of their lives in water, usually hiding in the vegetation.

Because of this, not much is known about them – they’re great swimmers, but they’ll burrow into mud to escape predators. Interestingly, they mainly eat eels, but also frogs and salamanders.

  • Size: up to 48 inches.
  • Color: black, blue, and red glossy scales, achieving a rainbow effect.
  • Venom: none, they’re very dormant and likely won’t bite if you grab them.
  • Food: mostly eels.

8. Rough Green Snake

Scientific name: Opheodrys aestivus

These snakes have been reported in every Virginia county, and it’s a very aquatic, but also an arboreal species – easily climbing trees. They’ll usually settle in flooded fields, near forests or some tall shrubbery.

They’re quick swimmers and they mostly feed on tree frogs, snails and insects found near water. The rough green snake is very difficult to spot – they’re entirely green and when they hide in vegetation, they completely blend in.

  • Size: up to 45 inches.
  • Color: entirely green with a more lightly-colored belly.
  • Venom: none.
  • Food: mostly insects, snails, and frogs.

9. Brown Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia taxispilota

They live in a stretch of counties from Virginia Beach to Chesterfield and King William county. Brown water snakes stay close to slow-moving streams and lakes, where they mainly eat catfish.

They’re very large for a water snake, growing up to 60 inches, and they use their strength to pull prey out to the shore where they simply swallow it once it’s overpowered. Sometimes, they’ll let it choke before eating.

  • Size: up to 60 inches, but some individuals grow longer.
  • Color: dark brown.
  • Venom: none, they drag prey out to the shore.
  • Food: mostly catfish and other fish.

10. Common Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon

As the name suggests, this snake is common and we can find it in every single county in Virginia. There, they mostly hide in plant stems and thick aquatic vegetation, usually near lakes, ponds, and marshes.

They’re often victims of misidentification, which leads to people killing them. Common water snakes are very similar to cottonmouths, so they’re killed out of fear.

  • Size: thick, up to 4 feet long.
  • Color: dark gray and brown, sometimes entirely black.
  • Venom: none, they swallow live prey.
  • Food: small fish and frogs.

11. Plain-bellied Water Snake

Scientific name: Nerodia erythrogaster

Reported only in most southeastern counties in Virginia, the plain-bellied water snake is at its most active during the warmest months of the year. Then, they’re active during the entire day.

They’ll often travel away from water, which is odd for a water snake. However, they feed exclusively on aquatic animals – fish, frogs, and salamanders. It will sometimes actively hunt for prey, but will also wait submerged and wait for prey.

  • Size: a 40-inch maximum.
  • Color: usually black and brown, but lighter colors have been reported too.
  • Venom: none.
  • Food: salamanders, frogs, and fish.

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