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Living Sanibel: Florida water snakes

By Staff | Feb 11, 2015

Because of its size and coloration, the elusive mangrove water snake is virtually impossible to spot during the day. As evening approaches, especially in the fall, this small snake will come out of the mangroves to bask on paths and roadways while they are still warmed from the sun. Like all reptiles and amphibians, the mangrove snake is cold-blooded and has to regulate body temperature by basking in the sun or absorbing the warmth of rocks or roadways when it is cold, and hiding in the shadowy understory or entering the water when it is too warm.

The mangrove snake is closely related to the Florida water snake. It has a variety of color variations throughout its range: some varieties have a reddish hue, whereas others can be yellow and/or brown.

This snake is unusual in that it tolerates brackish water and prefers the habitat of red and black mangroves. It feeds on mangrove crabs, snails and slugs, small fish, and marine insects and worms. In the wild it is preyed upon by raccoons, otters, ospreys, and larger fish such as snook and tarpon. The mangrove snake is not commonly kept as a pet.

Because of its aquatic nature, size, and coloration, the Florida water snake is commonly confused with the venomous cottonmouth. Far too many of these harmless water snakes are killed as a result of this mistaken identity. When cornered, the Florida water snake does behave like a cottonmouth, coiling itself back as if to strike, and because it can grow quite large, its bite can be vicious. Sadly, many people kill all snakes out of fear. This is a tragedy because snakes play a vital role in keeping rodent populations down; no wild creature should be killed simply because we fear it.

The Florida water snake ranges across most of the southeast. It is a fairly heavy-bodied snake, with faint brown banding. It has two color phases: blackish-green and reddish-orange. It feeds on a variety of aquatic prey, including tadpoles, frogs, fish, juvenile turtles, and toads. Although it will survive in captivity, it can never really be handled as it tends to bite throughout its lifetime. In the wild it is preyed upon by crocodiles, alligators, gar, snapping turtles, and otters.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.