There are several choices and preferences for keeping pets at home and people have been known to domesticate wild animals as their pets as well. But we must consider the characteristics and nature of these pets before we decide to bring them indoors. Such an example is the water snake. Water snakes are known to be harmless and considered to be kept as a pet at home as well. Many think they are poisonous but this is confused with another species of the water snake known as water moccasin snakes or cottonmouths, a venomous species. The non-venomous water snake is a good pet to keep but we need to know every detail of this reptile’s well-being and health care.
Female water snakes are heavier in weight and longer than males. They grow much faster as well. They can grow up to 3 feet. They tend to hunt by smelling the mucus membrane of fish, frogs, toads, or salamanders. They like to ambush their prey and also hunt them down.
The behavior of the water snake depends on its surroundings. If it was captive for a long time it will behave more socially than if it was wild-caught. In the latter case, they could be slightly difficult to become accustomed to. But in general, these snakes can be tamed well over time.
If they are properly handled and well-fed, they can socialize easily. Being from the Natricinae family the water snake is a good domestic pet. In this care guide, we have discussed all the facts on how to care for a pet snake.
Water Snake Species Profile
The common water snake is a large, non-venomous, common snake in the family Colubridae. It originates from North America. The Common Water Snake’s (Nerodia sipedon) species profile is given as below:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Suborder: Serpentes
- Family: Colubridae
- Genus: Nerodia
- Species: Nerodia sipedon
- Classification – Non-venomous
- Subspecies – Midland water snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis), northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), Carolina water snake and Lake Erie water snake
There are many kinds of water snakes and here are some common ones:
Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon): This is the most common species of the water snake. They are often confused with water moccasins the deadlier species. This snake is either brown, tan, or grey. They also have dark blotches on their skin which look like bands
Banded (Southern) water snake (Nerodia fasciata): These are medium-sized snakes. They have a reddish-brown to black color range and have dark cross bands. This kind of snake remains around the coastal regions of the USA, Alabama to North Carolina.
Brown Water Snake (Nerodia taxispilota): These snakes are found in the coastal part of the USA. As its name implies it has a light brown to the dark brown range of colors. They have square splotches along their backs and sides. This kind spends more time on trees than water.
Yellow-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster): This kind of snake is found in the Gulf Coast Region of the USA, in Georgia, Texas, and Southern Iowa. This snake has a yellow underbelly, unlike the others. They contain patterns when young.
Red-bellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster): This snake is another sub-species of the yellow-bellied water snake. It has a bright orange to yellow-red under-belly. They have brown or grey backs. This snake spends more time on land than on the water, often seen crossing roads.
Lake Erie water snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum): As the name mentions this water snake lives on rocky shores and islands of Lake Erie. This snake has a soft gray color with partial band patterns. They are medium-sized while the female is again longer up to 3.5 feet. They like to feed on goby fish more than native ones. This Northern sub-species was once threatened but is again growing in population.
The common water snake is abundant in southern or eastern united states and places like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Carolina, and some in the Western parts like Illinois, Iowa, and California. Water snakes like quiet water habitats like ponds, rivers, lakes, and marshes. They love swimming in the water and the sun as well. They take shelter under flat rocks and logs.
Water snakes love to live near water sources according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web. And they tend to stay only in that vicinity. Therefore, it is a good tip to keep water available if you want to keep it as a pet.
The water snakes hunt near plants and water edges during the day and at night they hunt for small fishes in shallow water. Although they are solitary in nature these snakes hibernate in groups during winter.
Enclosure for Water Snake
Water snakes are known to be good pets or companions indoors. They have a submissive character and are mostly calm in nature. They are also quite harmless. Therefore, they can be easily contained in our homes as pets if we have the right equipment for living in.
Water snakes are mainly enclosed or bounded in a snake tank or aquarium with the right bedding options or substrate like coconut fiber, reptile bark, sphagnum moss. Along with the tank, there should be places for it to rest and hide such as foliage and higher grounds as they tend to climb trees and branches above the water. For the adult snake, there should be big enough tanks to enclose it properly.
This is a typical enclosure for the water snake if kept as a pet at home. It should appear like the smaller version of the environment or niche they come from in the wild.
Feeding and Survival
Water snakes tend to eat what they find around lakes and ponds. Therefore, their common food includes types of frogs, salamanders, and fish. The exact food will depend on where the snake was from. The type of food depends on the location the snake was found originally. They usually swallow their food alive or whole at once.
Young snakes need to be fed every day whereas adults are fed once a week. Some common food for them is goldfish, rodents, crickets, earthworms, and chlorine-free water. They often swallow their prey alive when living in the wild. We need to make sure there is plenty of food available for them. These are the common food that ensures the survival of the water snakes kept as a pet:
- Fish– Fish are common staples for the water snake and can be of any size. The type of fish will depend on where the snake was living as there is a variety of them. Water snakes prefer slow swimming fishes but as they grow the choices can change.
- Frogs and Toads– Frogs and toads are one kind of the water snake’s favorite food. As they exist near the waters and in large numbers, they are the most consumed. As they grow, they tend to look for bigger size ones like bullfrogs.
- Salamanders– Another common dish for water snakes is salamanders. Since they are faster in movement water snakes often have to chase these cute little amphibians.
- Lizards– Water snakes love lizards of any kind and these are found commonly in warmer regions of the world. A lot of lizards live in or near water so it is not very tough to find them as food.
Water snakes have a common diet and they may eat different species (fish, frogs, or lizards) of food in different countries but there the kind remains the same.
When holding the water snake, we should be very gentle and first hold the snake by the middle of its body. As the snake tries to move forward, we need to keep slipping our hands behind and forth to make it feel like it is moving on its own. It is necessary to make them feel safe as they can become slightly threatened. When it feels threatened the water snake produces a secretion from glands and often defecate and vomit also.
The water snake should feel safe when held in the arm or hand. Or else it may feel slightly threatened. Once you are accustomed to the handling it will not be a problem anymore.
Therefore, it is very important that the snake feels comfortable in your hands and this could take a little time.
Health and Diseases
A healthy pet is a happy pet. And when it comes to an unusual kind like the water snake, it is important to understand what its health situation is. We need to monitor this on a daily basis. A healthy snake means it is active, has clear eyes, eats consistently, and regularly sheds its skin with no problems. It needs to be free from carrying any ticks as well. When the snake is unhealthy it might show these symptoms:
- Inconsistent shedding times
- Reluctant to eat
- Unusual feces
- Bumps on the skin
- Difficulty breathing
- The white substance is seen in the mouth
Apart from those, there are diseases like infections in the mouth (infectious stomatitis), internal parasites, skin infections, respiratory diseases, and septicemia.
Let’s know a little about these:
- Infectious stomatitis (Mouth rot)- When infected the water snake often undergoes hemorrhages and an excessive amount of mouth mucus is formed, containing blood sometimes. It also tends to breathe open its mouth and stop eating. This could be due to poor nutrition or injuries in the mouth. Sometimes proper environmental surroundings could cause these problems.
- Internal Parasites or External Parasites- Internal parasites like worms, coccidia, and external parasites like ticks or mites are common problems for water snakes. We can tell this by numerous signs such as diarrhea, breathing difficulties, regurgitation, swelling of internal organs, itching, skin irritation, anemia, mouth infection (mites can transmit the bacteria that cause infection), and weight loss. A particular kind of parasite known as Cryptosporidiosis, can infect the water snake that causes thickening of stomach muscles, indigestion, vomiting, and weight loss.
- Skin Infection (dermatitis)- Skin infections are common for water snakes when kept in too much moist or dry environments. There may be red inflamed skin appearing or blisters on their skin or even under the body. If this is not taken care of immediately it may get worse and cause further infection by bacteria resulting in severe skin damage and can lead to death. They can get rid of these problems by shedding their skins.
- Respiratory Infections- This disease is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It causes serious respiratory diseases in snakes. Symptoms could be mucus in the mouth, nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, wheezing and gurgling sounds.
- Septicemia- This is a condition of snakes when bacteria and toxins multiply in the cells of the bloodstream and other body organs of the water snake. It causes lethargy, loss of appetite, open-mouth breathing, and often red discoloration on the scales or belly of the snake.
Important Guidelines to Follow
No matter what pet we keep it is mandatory that we follow the correct guideline and care it needs, to be a good owner.
- Proper Feeding
- Habitable Housing
- Maintaining its Habitat-Clean and disinfecting
- Monitor its health and behavior
- Maintain temperature and humidity
- Sufficient food and water
Water Snakes are not always available at stores and most are found naturally in the lake and forest regions. The wild snakes are more unstable and are likely to be threatened than the pet store ones. Small-sized water snakes are better as they are easy to keep as pets. Unless you are experienced with handling snakes you should first go for the smaller-sized ones.