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This Snake Is Equally at Home in Water and on Land

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Maybe you’ve seen a snake slithering along on the ground, but did you know some snakes live in the water?

Photo courtesy of Robert Brown

Illinois is home to several kinds of water snakes. One of the most common is the northern water snake, which lives in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and marshes across the state. While these snakes are called water snakes, they don’t live only in the water. It’s normal to see them on land too, often sunning themselves on rocks, logs and branches near the water.

Here’s some more information on these slithering snakes.

Fun Facts

  • Northern water snakes are considered a medium-sized snake. They typically grow to be between 2 feet and 4 feet long. The females are usually larger than the males.

  • These snakes are carnivores, which means they eat other animals. They mostly eat fish, frogs, turtles and insects that live in the water, but they will also eat birds, small mammals and other snakes. They don’t kill the animals they hunt before eating them. They simply swallow them while they are still alive.

  • Snakes aren’t slimy, even though many people think they are. Some snakes are smooth to the touch, but northern water snakes have a rough feel. That’s because their scales are keeled, which means they have a ridge in the middle.

  • Northern water snakes have bands, or stripes on their backs, that can be black, gray, dark brown or reddish-brown in color. Their bellies are a different color than their backs, and are usually cream or yellow.

  • These snakes aren’t poisonous and won’t hurt humans. In fact, no snake that lives in northern Illinois is venomous. However, if a northern water snake is provoked or attacked, it may strike out and bite.

  • Some kinds of snakes are hatched from eggs and others are born alive. Northern water snakes are born alive, and once born they can hunt and care for themselves. A female water snake can give birth to as many as 100 babies in a litter, but the average litter size is 20 to 25.

  • Northern water snakes are most active during the day in spring and fall. In the summer, they are nocturnal, which means they are active at night.


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