Okefenokee’s Water Snakes

The Plain-bellied, or Red-bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) is a handsome serpent found throughout the refuge. They are common in wetter habitats throughout the southeastern United States. Their bellies are without markings and range from a rich red to a pale yellow. Found along Stephen C Foster State Park’s Trembling Earth Nature Trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 11, 2015. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

Of course, every thick brown snake spotted by visitors in the Okefenokee is a venomous Cottonmouth, or Water Moccasin (note the sarcasm!). I must admit, the Water Snakes (Genus Nerodia) do bear more similarities to the Cottonmouth than most snake species. The Water Snakes, like Cottonmouths, are a dark color, have thick bodies and roughly keeled scales. I can understand how those with just casual experience with snakes might be confused. So I cut them a break and try not to act too offended!

The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists four species of  Water Snake within the refuge. Although they are not venomous, I wouldn’t call them totally “harmless.” They can really put up a good fight of striking, hissing and musking… but this only happens to the people that try to grab them! If you keep your distance, they generally lie perfectly still or make and escape.

The majority of the time, the only thing visitors see of the Okefenokee’s water snakes is a splash into the water as the snake drops from an overhanging branch, usually before your canoe is within 100 feet of them. So it is often difficult to know which species you may have encountered.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/29977758


  1. I definitely keep my distance with snakes – not so much from fear as more of respect as they tend to keep their distance when we do have an encounter in the field and as someone that fits your category above (not the best at IDing them) that works for all parties involved.

    Liked by 1 person

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