What kind of snake is this?

Asked May 18, 2017, 5:02 PM EDT

What kind of snake is in the picture? The picture was taken in Flatrock on the bank of the Huron River.

Wayne County Michigan snakes animal identification northern watersnake nerodia sipedon sipedon

1 Response

Thank you for your question. The snake in your photographs is a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). It is non-venomous. It is common throughout Michigan.

Watersnakes are common in rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. They can often be seen basking in shrubs and low hanging tree limbs over the water. They feed primarily on fish and amphibians (frogs, salamanders, etc.). Typical length is between 2 - 3 feet, and maximum length is approximately 4 - 5 feet.

If threatened, watersnakes will first attempt to escape by the quickest route possible, usually attempting to get back to the water, if they're on land. If they are basking on limbs overhanging the water, they simply drop into the water and swim away. If escape is not possible, they will flatten their head and inflate their body to make themselves appear larger. They also release a strong smelling musk from their anal glands. If you insist on getting closer or trying to pick them up, they will strike and bite repeatedly, but their bite poses no risk to humans, other than the usual risks you may be exposed to anytime you break the skin.

Generally, these snakes will be back in the water and below the surface if people get to close to them. Many times you won't even see them.
Check out the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website for additional information on this species:

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12201-61196--,00.html

Here is an excellent field guides you may want to consider:

Gibbons, W. (2017). Snakes of the Eastern United States. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

Hope this answers your question, and thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.

Jim