Spring Break 2018: The Adorably Not Too Bright Watersnake

Nerodia fasciata pictiventris, the Florida banded watersnake;
Collier county, Florida (15 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

A couple of posts back, we checked out a difficult-to-see Florida banded watersnake, Nerodia fasciata pictiventris, photographed along a canal-line parallel to U.S. Highway 29. Now, let’s take a closer look at another such Florida banded watersnake from our wee Spring Break sojourn to South Florida.

Abundant throughout pretty much all of peninsular Florida, the Florida banded watersnake, also referred to simply as the Florida watersnake, is a non-venomous species averaging upwards to three feet or so in length. It can be quite variable in appearance, though it usually maintains the band-like stripe behind the eye as seen in the pictures below.

This is one of Florida’s three “big” freshwater watersnakes, alongside the Brown watersnake (Nerodia taxispilota) and the Florida green watersnake (Nerodia floridana) — all non-venomous. The Banded watersnake is also very closely related to the slightly smaller coastal species, Nerodia clarkii, the Salt marsh snake. Hybrids between N. fasciata and N. clarkii seem to be quite common where I live in Volusia county. As far as diet and habitat, the Florida banded watersnake is less than picky compared to its “big” freshwater compatriots. It’ll eat fish and frogs, living or dead, and may be found basking on shore, in water-strewn reeds, or in branches hanging over the water. You can find them around ponds, creeks, lakes, and streams — and even on the edge of parking lots near ornamental ponds. Really, if there’s fish and/or frogs, there’s a decent chance the Bandeds will give it a shot. I’ve seen plenty around artificial, urban water structures, stuff like apartment ponds, water fountains, and the like. They’re just not too picky.

And if we’re being completely honest, Florida banded watersnakes aren’t too bright, either — relatively speaking… Whereas brown watersnakes are pretty damn good at hiding in branches off the ground and over the water and Florida green watersnakes often bask offshore atop soft, grassy reeds, Bandeds often bask in plain sight… and they’re not always the fastest to react to would-be predators. It’s sort of embarrassing to think about how many Florida banded watersnakes I’ve been able to catch and photograph with relative ease. They just don’t make it that hard, bless their hearts. On the flip side, however, Bandeds will sometimes readily and eagerly strike in self-defense when caught by hand. They’re also quick to smear their musk and feces on perceived threats. It’s a… pungent kind of odor. I guess it’s an odor I’m pretty used to by now.

Anyhow, Florida banded watersnakes really don’t pose any measurable or realistic risk to people if left to their own devices. They’re not aggressive, and they’ll try to escape if you give them a few seconds to figure it out. Heh. Just give them some space and time… and they’ll figure it out. If I had to name a favorite snake species, this would probably be it. I find Florida banded watersnakes to be immeasurably adorable and not-too-bright snakes.

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