Tacony Creek Creatures: Northern Water Snakes

Intern Emmanuel Hampton continues his Tacony Creek Creatures series with Northern Water Snakes. 

Stop by the River Alive Learning Trail to see the water snake, heron, fox, painted turtle, and other creatures up close. River Alive Learning Trail free program information here.

Check out the previous blogs in the series: Red FoxGreat Blue HeronPainted Turtle, and next, the River Otter! 

Written by Emmanuel Hampton, TTF Intern

Tacony Creek Park’s second reptile is snakes. The Northern Water Snake is the most abundant. The Northern Water Snake comes in many blacks, browns, and tans, making them hard to spot and excellent camouflage. Their scales aren’t very shiny all the time, further helping them hide in plain sight. These attributes help them sneak up on their prey.

Snake eats fish!
“Grackle Snake Fish,” 2017, Photographer Pete Carter

This snake feeds on mostly aquatic life like fish, toads, frogs, insects, crayfish, and occasionally mice. In order to get to their aquatic prey, The Northern Water Snake is able to swim like an eel. They are also able to dive underwater to avoid predators.

“How do they move out of water?” you may ask, and I say, that’s a good question! Snakes slither in an S formation using their ribs and belly scales as a grip to somewhat slowly move side to side to move forward.

These snakes seem venomous but are actually not. Most mistake it for venomous snakes like cottonmouths or copperheads because of their black bands. Even without venom, The Northern Water Snake is known to be aggressive and easily agitated. When disturbed, they will flatten out their bodies and strike with their sharp fangs.

Inhabitating freshwater and woodlands allows them to have food and protection from weather and predators. These areas are usually lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, marshes, and swamps.

Snakes are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they don’t generate their own internal heat and have to rely on their environment’s temperature and weather to survive. In the winter when it gets too cold, Northern Water Snakes will go into hibernation, which slows down their metabolism and allows them to go through the winter without having to eat.

Water Snakes are one of the many species of snakes that have gender diphormism.

Gender diphormism occurs when one gender of the same species is on average, bigger than the other. For instance, the female Northern Water Snake is bigger and longer than the males. This is thought to make it easier for the females to protect their eggs.

Northern Water Snakes’ mating season is usually in the Spring but can be year-long in tropical climates. These snakes give birth to live young, unlike most snakes and reptiles that usually lay eggs. On average, The mother snake lays 25 younglings who are all a much brighter color than their parent.

The problem with this is, the mother doesn’t take care of the newborns. This is because snakes actually lack the brain function that feels emotion. Mentally Northern Water Snakes act on instinct, not on how they feel. After birth, the newborns have to fend for themselves. Finding food, staying at a safe temperature, and making sure they don’t get caught by a predator is a hard task for the small snakes. This is why most of the little Northern Water Snakes don’t make it.

Northern Water Snakes are preyed upon by various species of birds such as Egrets, Herons, Hawks, Bitterns, and Rails. Some larger species of fish can eat them such as the Pike and Bass. Even other snakes will eat the Northern Water Snakes like the Northern Black Racer and Eastern Ratsnake. Its lack of arms makes it hard to stop an oncoming attack from something striking overhead. To a bird, they’re just oversized, dangerous worms.

These reptilian creatures are an awesome sight to see while they’re sunbathing; can you find them in Tacony Creek Park? Post your findings on social media and tag us! @TTFWatershed #TTFWatershed #TaconyCreekPark 

Web Sources: National Wildlife Federation, CT.gov, Live Science, Chester County, AZ Animals

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