Southern Watersnake

One subspecies, Broad-banded Watersnake (N. f. confluens), occurs at Reelfoot Lake and counties that border the Mississippi River.

Description: A medium-sized, semi-aquatic snake (22.0 to 36.0 inches in length) with broad brown, red-brown, or black crossbands separated by yellow to grayish bands.   Variations in band color occur across its range.   

Belly is yellow patterned with bold, square, black markings.   A faint black line runs from the corner of the eye diagonally to the corner of the mouth.   Young are more brightly colored.

Similar Species: Cottonmouths are darker and more heavy-bodied with a facial pit between eye and nostril.

Habitat: Prefers cypress swamps, marshes, river sloughs, and shallow lakes. Frequently found among thick vegetation, basking on logs, or on branches overhanging water.

Diet: Primarily fish, frogs, toads, and tadpoles; occasionally salamanders and crayfish.

Breeding information: Courtship and mating occurs in spring. Females give live birth to 7-40 brightly colored young during the summer.

Status in Tennessee: Common at Reelfoot Lake; populations appear to be stable. However, many watersnakes are persecuted by humans who mistake them for Cottonmouths.

Fun Facts:

  • Often called “yellow moccasin” and “pink flamingo snake” by locals due to the rich color variations which the Southern Watersnake exhibits.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Basking on logs or along the edges of Reelfoot Lake.


Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.