summer of '03 will go down in the record books as one of the
wettest ever with all the rain that fell. In our yard there
has been a bumper crop of frogs living in the grass.
Hundreds of leopard frogs are everywhere you step. The frogs
are providing an inland smorgasbord for many creatures around the
marsh including the Red Belly Water Snake. I saw a pretty
big one slithering away as I was cleaning up in the tall grass and
low brush around an old shed out back. I decided to look
them up on the internet and found out that the water snakes around
Knotts Island may be responsible for the poor reputation of the
water moccasins they share the marsh with. Besides the Red
Belly, there are two other varieties of water snakes that came up
and each behaves in ways that explained a few of the stories I've
heard from the locals.
The Red Belly Water Snake (Nerodia
erythrogaster) is the most common of the water snakes on
Knotts Island. It usually is seen in the ditches and swampy
areas but will come up the the drier areas in search of food.
It eats frogs and other amphibians mostly but also preys on small
rodents and fish. This is a year that he'll be seen nearer
to our homes as he takes advantage of the large numbers of frogs
created by the heavy rains. Commonly referred to as a Red
Belly, he shouldn't be confused with the smaller and more docile
snake of that same name. The red belly water snake is very
aggressive and will bite if handled, with no exceptions.
Here is the culprit behind the myth of the "cottonmouth that swam
to the boat and tried to attack us." Like all snakes in the
Nerodia family, the Northern Water Snake (Nerodia
sipedon) is very aggressive and also very territorial.
This one will defend its hunting grounds vigorously and with
markings similar to a cottonmouth's, he can easily be confused for
one. He will also bite repeatedly, which is uncharacteristic
of a water moccasin. The wound from a bite (or bites) from
this fellow will bleed profusely as his saliva has anti-coagulant
The Brown Water Snake (Nerodia Taxispilotia) is a
large water snake who frequents the tree limbs over water. I
finally found the solution to the mystery of the air assaults
reportedly committed by cottonmouths. These guys like to
bask in tree limbs and if they are startled by the commotion of
boats and fishermen on the water below them, they will drop from
the branches in an attempt to escape possible danger. This
often results in a landing aboard somebody's boat. Whether
they were invited aboard or not, these snakes are extremely
aggressive and will immediately become belligerent to the boats'
It turns out that the
water snakes may be the reason that people are so worried about
attacks from the relatively non-aggressive water moccasin.
They are marked like the moccasin and can be seen swimming like
one but that where the similarity stops. If you see a snake
swimming toward you or your boat, try to notice if he's on top of
the water or not. A moccasin will float completely out of
the water and the non-venomous water snakes swim with the most of
their bodies submerged. Also note the head. The
moccasin has a distinctly triangular shape to his head where the
water snakes have a head that isn't much wider than its body.
For more information on the water moccasin and his mostly
defensive nature, see this page.
In the mean time, enjoy your activities on the water around Knotts
Island and keep a careful eye on the water snakes. The
cottonmouths will keep a careful eye on you.