Northern Water Snake

Nerodia sipedon sipedon

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
    • Temperature:
    • Humidity:
    • Lighting:
  • Substrate:

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, northern water snakes eat fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals. During the day, they will hunt among the plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they will concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water. They tend to feed on diseased or dying fish, and will control fish overpopulation in some places

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



  • Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a Coleman style coolers that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Small and medium sized snakes travel inside an inside-out, knotted pillowcase. Large snakes travel loose in the cooler that is also bungeed shut. During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler.
    • lg cooler     hot water bottle

Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling


Potential Messaging

  • In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.
  • Snakes are an important link in the food chain. They provide food for many bird and mammal species that prey on them. The main diet of most snakes is rodents. Therefore, snakes provide a very valuable service – pest control. Most snakes are non-venomous and will avoid humans if they can. Venomous snakes want to use their venom to kill small prey animals or to defend themselves; since humans are too big to be considered prey by most snakes, the best way to avoid a bite is not to make the snake feel threatened. Ask guests to avoid any snakes they may see in the wild and appreciate them from a distance.

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Northern water snakes are native to North America, from southern Maine and Canada south to North Carolina and Louisianna, through the Great Lakes region and west to Nebraska. They can be found in a variety of wet habitats, including lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and wetlands. They are often found in muskrat houses and beaver lodges, hiding among the sticks and plant stems.

Physical Description

This snake is dark colored, usually brown, reddish, tan, or graying in appearance, with alternating darker square blotches on the back and sides. The belly is usually white or yellowish. As the snakes age, they will become darker.

This is a small to medium sized snake, reaching 2 to 4 feet in length. Males are smaller than females.

Life Cycle

Males can begin breeding at 21 months of age, but females don’t mature until their 3rd year of age. Mating occurs in April and June, and females can produce a single clutch of young each year. Gestation lasts between 3 to 5 months, and clutch size can be as high as 30 – the bigger a female is, the more offspring she will produce.

The young are born alive (this species is ovoviviparous) and will range in size from 6 to 12 inches at birth. Young are generally born between August and October.

Mother water snakes do not care for their young. As soon as they are born, they are on their own.


For the most part, these snakes are solitary; they are only social during the fall and spring after overwintering. They are more active during the daytime, although they can also hunt at night.

Northern water snakes are often mistaken for the venomous water moccasin, and are killed because of this.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is not considered endangered or threatened. Common predators include birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs, and other snakes. Northern water snakes will defend themselves vigorously when threatened.

Did you know…

  • Northern water snakes often share their winter dens with other snakes, such as copperheads and black rat snakes




Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters