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The Northern water snake is a large, nonvenomous, common snake native to North America. These snakes can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black in color. They have dark crossbands on the neck and dark blotches on the rest of the body. As Northern water snakes age, the color darkens, and the pattern becomes obscure. Some individuals will become almost completely black. The belly also varies in color. It can be white, yellow, or gray. Usually, it also has reddish or black crescents.
Northern water snakes are found throughout eastern and central North America, from southern Ontario and southern Quebec in the north to Texas and Florida in the south. They live near lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, and canals; just about anywhere there is freshwater. They also occur in brackish and saltwater habitats.
Northern water snakes are active during the day and at night. They are most often seen basking on stream banks, from which they dive into the water at the slightest disturbance. These snakes are quick to flee from danger, but if cornered or captured, they usually will not hesitate to defend themselves. Larger specimens can inflict a painful bite. During the day, Northern water snakes hunt among plants at the water's edge and at night, they concentrate their hunting on small fish sleeping in shallow water. They hunt using smell and sight. Northern water snakes are solitary creatures, but during the winter they will gather with other snakes in communal dens for hibernation.
Northern water snakes are polygynous meaning that males mate with more than one female. The breeding season usually takes place from April through June. These snakes are ovoviviparous, which means they do not lay eggs like many other snakes. Instead, the mother carries the eggs inside her body and gives birth to free-living young, each one 19-23 cm (7.5-9 in) long. A female may have as many as 30 snakelets at a time, but the average is 8. The gestation period can last around 3-5 months. They are born between August and October. Mothers do not care for their young; as soon as they are born, they are on their own.
There are no major threats to Northern water snakes at present.
According to IUCN, the Northern water snake is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Northern water snakes are important for the environment as they control the populations of their main prey, including fish, and other reptiles.