Blotched Water Snake
This snake was photographed by Chris Stein, at his home in Austin, Texas. The object in its mouth is a toad, which is one of the favored food items in this snake's diet. Stein's home backs up to a natural creek. The Blotched Water Snake is common in Austin and throughout central Texas, and is associated with water courses.
Because this snake is found in and around water, and, like all snakes in the genus Nerodia, has a nasty disposition, it is often misidentified as a venomous "Water Moccasin" (a name that is not recognized by herpetologists) or a "Cottonmouth" (a name that herpetologists do use). Like many non-venomous snakes that feed on large prey (vs. small prey such as lizards, earthworms, etc.) the Blotched Water Snake has developed a defensive behavior that mimics that of venomous snakes. For example, if you approach N. transversa, it will coil up, vibrate its tail, assume a strike posture, and flatten its body near the head to appear larger than it is.
If you get within range, N. transversa will strike and bite. Though its bite is not poisonous, it will draw blood. You will usually also be treated to the odor of its foul-smelling musk, which is similar in fragrance to that of a skunk. The musk is released as another defense mechanism, probably to dissuade other animals from considering it a tasty meal.
If you should see a water snake in Texas, it is very likely to be a non-venomous species of the genus Nerodia, as this snake is. Other species of the same genus have slightly different markings on their dorsal surfaces; some, like the Yellowbelly Water Snake (N. flavigaster), are very dark on their dorsal surfaces with few or no markings. This makes them look even more like the venomous Western Cottonmouth. However, species of the genus Nerodia have no markings above or below the eye (see the photo below), although the lip may be a lighter color, while the Western Cottonmouth has a black stripe enclosing the eye and extending back toward the tail like the mask of a raccoon. This marking, fortunately, is easy to see from a distance, so you do not need to get too close to identify a Western Cottonmouth.
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