Meet 13 Snakes of the Alabama River

Nerodia erythrogaster - Plain-bellied watersnake
© Tyler Albertson/Shutterstock.com

Written by Gail Baker Nelson

Updated: June 20, 2023

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Snakes are almost everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. Of course, a few regions where people live are cold enough that they haven’t colonized them — Alaska lacks snakes, but Alabama has no such problem! 

This southern state is rich in wildlife, from the very big to the very small. Its temperate climate and year-round warm weather in the southern half make it especially welcoming for our slithering friends — some may not even need to brumate. However, snakes are always more active when the weather is above 60º Fahrenheit.

Let’s take a look at 13 snakes you’ll see in and around the Alabama River.

1. Common Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)

Northern Water Snake (nerodia sipedon)

Northern watersnakes are one of the most widespread watersnakes in North America.

©Steve Byland/Shutterstock.com

The common watersnake has several names, including northern watersnake, brown water snake, and black water adder. They’re common throughout the northern half of Alabama.

Usually grow to between two and three feet long but sometimes reach four feet. Like many water snakes, common watersnakes begin their lives one color and change as they mature. Young snakes have strong patterns and are gray or brown to brownish-black with dark crossbands that turn into blotches down the body. 

Common water snakes eat a little of anything they find in the water: fish, tadpoles, frogs, worms, leeches, large insects, and crayfish. However, they’re often spotted basking and taking off when they spot you.

2. Northern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

Cottonmouths are considered to be one of the few semi-aquatics snakes in the world.

Cottonmouths are considered to be one of the few semi-aquatic venomous snakes in the world.

©jo Crebbin/Shutterstock.com

Also called the water moccasin, the northern cottonmouth is common across the southern United States. There are no other semiaquatic venomous snakes in North America.

Cottonmouths are the most common venomous snake in and around the Alabama River. Unless you see it swimming, it’s a slow-moving snake that moves gracefully while hunting for fish and amphibians. It’s an opportunistic feeder and eats anything it can catch, but it isn’t a great fisher! So instead, it corners fish and frogs in shallow water to catch them.

Cottonmouths’ scales are keeled, with thick bodies that narrow sharply towards the tail. They darken with age and become almost solid-colored with just a hint of the pattern low on their sides above their bellies. Young cottonmouths are often confused with copperheads because of the similarity between the two snakes’ patterns. However, cottonmouths have jagged pattern edges. Like other pit vipers, they have broad angular heads that hold big venom glands and thinner necks. One behavior that helps identify them is how they often hold their heads — with their snouts pointing up. 

No matter how fearsome these snakes are, remember two things: 

  1. Cottonmouths will NOT chase you — snakes view everything bigger as a threat to their safety. Chasing you doesn’t make sense from any perspective. Their only thought is escape.
  2. They CAN bite underwater — there’s a belief that snakes can’t bite underwater. It’s a dangerous myth. Snakes bite underwater for many reasons, but the biggest for this snake is that most of a cottonmouth’s food lives in the water.

3. Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Center frame on white isolate: A timber rattlesnake

Timber

rattlesnakes

are highly venomous, but most are not likely to bite.

©fivespots/Shutterstock.com

This venomous pit viper is pretty common throughout the Alabama River region. Fortunately, they’re about as laid-back as you can find in a rattlesnake. 

Timber rattlesnakes are one of the most toxic in North America. Still, they usually don’t bite without a lot of warning rattling. 

Scientists discovered four different types of venom possible within the species. Which one you’re getting depends on where it lives: 

  • Type A is mostly neurotoxic and found in the southern range.
  • Type B is hemotoxic and cytotoxic, found mostly in northern and southeastern populations.
  • Type A+B seems to be a combination of both, usually found along the border between A and B-type venom carriers.
  • Type C is pretty weak and doesn’t have any of the nasty components of the others.

These snakes usually measure three to five feet long, but most are just under four feet. Timber rattlesnakes have big, chunky pit viper heads, thin necks, and stocky bodies that end with a rattle. They usually hang out near prey and just off the hiking trails. You may find them near the Alabama River, but not necessarily in it. 

4. Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Eastern Garter Snake on Log

One of the most cold-tolerant snakes in the world, garter snakes are usually active early and later in the year than other species.

©Erik Agar/Shutterstock.com

Garter snakes of some type are nearly everywhere in North America. They’re semiaquatic and sometimes spend hours in the water, making them a common sight along the Alabama River. 

Eastern garter snakes are long and thin, averaging two to four feet long. Near the Alabama River, most eastern garter snakes have dark greenish-brown bodies with orange or yellow stripes.

These harmless snakes usually eat small amphibians, worms, and slugs. They have mildly venomous saliva that affects their prey but not people. These snakes eat small mice and anything else they shove down their throats.

5. Banded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata)

Nerodia fasciata, banded watersnake

Banded watersnakes are common in the eastern United States.

©Gilbert S. Grant/Shutterstock.com

This species is more common along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Still, you’ll find them lurking about in the southern end of the Alabama River. The semiaquatic banded watersnake has a few subspecies but is nonvenomous and nothing to worry about. 

They’re mostly dark brown to black with lighter-colored bands that range from orange-brown to reddish-brown. You’ll likely see them when they’re basking on branches or watching the water below them for prey.

Banded watersnakes usually grow between two and four feet long with stocky bodies and keeled scales. Like all watersnakes, their teeth are extremely sharp so they can grab and hold on to their slippery food — fish and amphibians.

6. Mississippi Green Watersnake (Nerodia cyclopion)

Nerodia cyclopion

The green water snake is found only in the southeastern United States.

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

You’ll only find Mississippi green watersnakes at the southern end of the Alabama River because a small strip of their range extends into Alabama. They prefer marshy, swampy areas and are only rarely far from a water source.

Mississippi watersnakes are heavy-bodied and grow between two and four feet long. They usually have one or more extra scales under their eyes that other watersnakes lack. These snakes are mainly green or brown; they have yellowish bellies in the first third, and the rest is dark brown or black with yellow or white half circles. 

Their favorite foods are fish and amphibians, and they can be active day and night during the warmer seasons.

7. Common Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis saurita)

A garter snake cousin, the common ribbon snake, is also semiaquatic. This snake is dark brown with bright yellow stripes and averages 16 to 35 inches long.

Ribbon snakes are active during the day and use their vision and auditory senses to hunt. They love being near lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes, where they eat newts, salamanders, toads, frogs, tadpoles, small fish, and other such prey. 

These harmless snakes are common around the Alabama River, wherever they can find prey and shelter in the surrounding vegetation.

8. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)

Large eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes’ pattern often fades towards their tail.

©Chase D’animulls/Shutterstock.com

The longest venomous snake in North America is no stranger to marshland. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes inhabit everything from grass-sedge marshes and swamp forests to dry pine forests, flatwoods, and sandhills. They’re more common in the southern one-third of the Alabama River but avoid people whenever possible. 

These snakes often reach six feet long, and a few record-setting individuals measured over seven. However, stories of eight-foot-long specimens have never been proven but have long been suspected. 

While it isn’t much of a climber, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have been spotted in trees over 30 feet off the ground. However, these snakes are excellent swimmers and often cross stretches of water to get where it wants to go.

Although it’s not as nervous as its western diamondback rattlesnake cousin, this snake tends to give threats plenty of warning. Its rattle is loud enough for you to hear from far away. 

This snake’s large adult size allows it to eat fully-grown cottontails, which, for many snakes, make up most of its diet. However, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes around the Alabama River also eat squirrels, rats, mice, birds, young wild turkeys, lizards, and large insects.

9. Plain-Bellied Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)

Plan Belly Water Snake

Plain-bellied water snakes become almost black as they age, making it impossible to see their patterns. However, they have vertical labial (lip) bars that identify them as nonvenomous snakes around the Alabama River.

©iStock.com/lbolton09

This big nonvenomous snake is more common in the northern sections of the Alabama River. The plain-bellied watersnake is one of several watersnake species in North America. They’re native to the eastern half of the continent, but a few have been introduced into California. 

It’s almost always near a permanent water source in Alabama because it eats fish, crayfish, frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians. The plain-bellied watersnake has a stocky body and keeled scales. It averages two and three and a half feet long; adults have an almost solid greenish-black color with faint cross bands that often resemble chalk marks. Their bellies are solid white or yellow, but some subspecies can be orange or red.

These harmless snakes are shy and try to escape at the first sign of danger. However, if you corner and try to pick up one, it will bite repeatedly with razor-sharp teeth. 

10. Diamondback Watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer)

Diamondback Water Snake

Diamondback watersnakes eat more frogs, toads, and salamanders than other watersnakes.

©Laurie L. Snidow/Shutterstock.com

Another watersnake on our list, diamondback watersnakes, are more common in the northern sections but can be found everywhere around the Alabama River.

These dark snakes have black markings that form a “chainlink fence” pattern. Unfortunately, that pattern makes people confuse them for venomous cottonmouths or diamondback watersnakes. 

Diamondback watersnakes have keeled scales and measure 30 to 48 inches. They prefer slower-moving water where they can hunt for the fish and amphibians they love to eat. Like other watersnakes, they use razor-sharp teeth to capture fish and other slippery prey.

11. Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

Eastern Copperhead

Eastern copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) are not aggressive, but bite more people than any other snake. Why? Because they get stepped on.

©Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

One of the most common venomous snakes within its range, eastern copperheads are relatively calm snakes. However, they are so common that people often step on them while hiking because they rely on camouflage instead of escape.

Copperheads are known for their “chocolate kiss” markings over a lighter background. These snakes hang out near rock outcroppings and even marshy lowlands. 

Most of them stay smaller than 37 inches long. They eat a variety of prey, mainly arthropods. Then, in the summer, they climb trees after cicadas and surprise people! 

12. Queensnake (Regina septemvittata)

Queen snake coiled in the grass

The queen snake is a non aggressive, non venomous snake found in and around the Alabama River.

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

The nonvenomous queen snake looks a lot like a garter snake, which causes confusion. However, queen snakes are part of a different snake group that hasn’t managed to spread as far across North America. 

A harmless semiaquatic snake, queen snakes are relatively common throughout northern Alabama, including the Alabama River. This snake almost exclusively eats crayfish and even prefers recently molted crayfish. However, they’ll eat small fish if they’re hungry enough. 

You’ll find queen snakes in the northern one-third of the Alabama River. They use branches and roots at or above the water’s edge to bask in the sun and quickly take off when disturbed. Queen snakes are docile and don’t usually bite. 

13. Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)

Juvenile Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)

Gray ratsnakes usually keep their pattern throughout their lives.

©Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock.com

This nonvenomous snake is talented at finding new and exciting places to hunt rodents. Like all Pantherophis genus snakes, the gray ratsnake is a superb climber. You’ll find it from the ground to the tree tops and maybe even hanging from your porch light. 

Gray ratsnakes have no problem living around people, and you’re likely to find this snake anywhere along the Alabama River. They’re not known for swimming, but wouldn’t hesitate to swim if there might be food on the other side of the water.

One of the bigger snakes around the Alabama River, gray ratsnakes can reach six feet long, but five is more common. As their name suggests, they eat rats but love eating small warm-blooded animals. 

Animals that Live Along the Alabama River

Snakes aren’t the only animals you’ll see along the Alabama River. Over 3,000 species call the area home, including insects, mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. 

  • Green anole (Anolis carolinensis) This lizard is a common sight wherever there are insects to eat.
  • Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) is a brown butterfly with bright, bright multicolored spots.
  • Gulf Fritillary (Dione vanillae) bright orange, it’s hard to miss this butterfly!
  • The common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is a big aquatic turtle common in many of Alabama’s waters.

Is it Safe to Swim in the Alabama River

Watersports are popular along the Alabama River — fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming are all common. The river is generally safe to swim, but experts suggest you confirm that E. coli isn’t lurking by checking with local guides.

What Happens if You See a Snake Underwater

Snakes don’t want to mess with you any more than you want to mess with them — unless you’re out herping. So if you see a snake underwater and don’t want to be near it, give it space and let it get away. Back away slowly, and it should leave you alone. 

Many snakes on or under the water are curious, and there are reports of snakes (even venomous ones!) coming up to check people out before swimming away. So stay calm and encourage it to go away with a few well-placed splashes.

Summary Of 13 Snakes of the Alabama River

RankSnakes in the Alabama River
1Common Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon)
2Northern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
3Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
4Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
5Banded Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata)
6Mississippi Green Watersnake (Nerodia cyclopion)
7Common Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis saurita)
8Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
9Plain-Bellied Watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster)
10Diamondback Watersnake (Nerodia rhombifer)
11Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
12Queensnake (Regina septemvittata)
13Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)
Summary Table of 13 Snakes of the Alabama River

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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