In a past column I featured the now extirpated from Indiana mud snake. I also said in that column that while we do have a few cottonmouths in Indiana I have never had one brought to me to identify. I also related I would feature what other water snakes we do have in our state. Well here they are.
The most common water snake in Indiana is the banded water snake. There are two subspecies of the banned native to our state. They are the northern banded and the midland banded. These are the two most people come in contact with while out on or near water. They can be up to 40 or so inches in length and have a robust body.
They vary a lot in color and can be gray, brown, tan and even black in older snakes. The banded does have dark brown or reddish cross bands across its body while the midland also has bands that are more or less unbroken, but are lighter in color.
The northern banded water snake occurs in the northern half of Indiana while the midland is native to the southern section of our state. It is most common in the Wabash and White River watersheds and near the Ohio River.
There is an area in central Indiana where the two subspecies integrate and you may find snakes that resemble both subspecies. This makes identification rather difficult in this segment of Hoosierland. This is the water snake most often brought to me for identification.
They can be found in almost any aquatic habitat in Indiana. They can be seen swimming in the water along the banks of lakes or streams and on limbs hanging over water. The main food of these snakes is fish, most of which are not game fish. They can, however, be a pest around fish hatcheries.
They will also consume frogs, toads and other aquatic creatures. In turn these water snakes are eaten by large fish such as bass, and by raccoon, herons, minks and even by big bullfrogs. While the banded water snakes are not venomous, they will flatten their head and strike out when disturbed. A bite from one of these snakes can be painful and will bleed for some time. These also are the snakes often call “water moccasins,” but are not cottonmouths.
Another Hoosier water snake often mistaken for a cottonmouth is the diamondback water snake. It is a large snake up to 63 inches in length and also is very robust. It is marked much like the banded snakes, but has a cream-colored belly with black markings and a faint diamond-shaped pattern on its back. Thus its name.
This is the southern species that only extends into the southwestern section of Indiana. Here it is found along the watersheds of the White and Wabash rivers in Knox, Daviess, Gibson, Posey, Vanderburg, Sullivan, Vigo, Clay, Warrick, and possibly Martin, Dubois and Spencer counties.
The diamondback also is a fish eater and also like bullfrogs. It is a very aggressive snake and its bite can be quite painful. This is another snake that is mistaken for a cottonmouth, but again it is not poisonous.
The queen snake is another of our water snakes and is found over a number of Hoosier counties. It is, however, rare or absent in the southwestern or south central segments of Hoosierland. It is a small snake less than two feet in length. It also is very slender with a yellow belly and a yellow stripe along its lower side. The back of the queen snake is brown in color.
A rare Hoosier water snake is the lovely copperbelly. Only found in a few locations in southwestern, southeastern and northeastern Indiana it is listed as endangered in our state. It is either black or dark brown above with a red or orange belly. It is one of our most colorful snakes and is given full protection in the Patoka River National Wildlife Area, sites along the Muscatatuck River, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, and in some nature preserves.
These are the snakes most often found in or near Hoosier waters. A few other snakes may on occasion be seen in water, but our true water snakes are indeed an interesting part of our Indiana natural heritage.