Vermont is a small state in the New England region of the US. Although it has a stunning and varied topography, some of its most distinctive habitats are wetlands. The vast Lake Champlain which divides Vermont and New York, in particular, is a notable wetland region that is home to numerous aquatic animals. Some of these aquatic animals are snakes. Although there are only 11 species of snakes in Vermont, three of these are water snakes. Read on to discover what the water snakes in Vermont look like, where you can find them, and whether they are dangerous.
1. Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
We’ll begin with the common garter snake which is approximately 18 to 30 inches long. Common garter snakes have thin bodies and an appearance which can vary greatly. However, they often have a dark ground color with three light-colored stripes along their bodies. They have one stripe down the center of their back and the other two are down each side of their bodies on scale rows two and three. These stripes are typically orange, yellow, or cream. However, they also often have some red or black blotches between the lateral stripes.
Common garter snakes are one of the most common snakes in Vermont. They occur statewide in a variety of habitats. However, they most often live in habitats close to water where they prey on a wide range of fish, crayfish, amphibians, earthworms, slugs, and snails. They are unusual as they are immune to the toxins produced by toads, being able to eat them without harm. Common garter snakes are also slightly venomous to their prey through toxins which they produce in their saliva. They lack fangs so chew it into their prey instead, slowing them down sufficiently for them to swallow them whole. However, these snakes are not at all dangerous to people. They only bite as a last resort if they are threatened or cornered, and in the majority of cases the bites cause little worse than a mild itching sensation.
Common garter snakes are active from March or early April until late October when brumation begins. During this period, they live in crevices or rodent burrows, although they may be observed basking on rocks during sunny afternoons.
2. Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)
The next water snake in Vermont is the eastern ribbon snake which is extremely rare within the state. They live in scattered locations, predominantly in the southern and western regions. Although eastern ribbon snakes can live in pastures and woodlands, like the common garter snake they almost always live close to water. Eastern ribbon snakes typically prefer slow-moving water such as streams and swamps. They mainly prey on frogs, salamanders, and small fish which they grab and swallow alive.
Eastern ribbon snakes range are typically 20 to 30 inches long, although the longest specimen found in Vermont was 35 inches. They have a similar appearance to common garter snakes as they have yellowish-colored stripes on a dark brown to black background. However, they can be distinguished from them by their white upper lip and a vertical white bar next to their eyes. The lateral stripes are also located higher than those on common garter snakes — occurring on rows three and four instead.
Eastern ribbon snakes typically mate in the spring when they emerge from brumation and the young are born in the late summer and early fall. They are ovoviviparous which means that they produce eggs which hatch inside their bodies, allowing them to give birth to live young. Litter sizes can range between four and 27 snakes, although the average is 12. The juveniles are approximately seven to nine inches long when they are born.
3. Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)
The only true water snake on the list is the northern water snake which can inhabit most freshwater habitats. However, in Vermont they mostly occur in the western half of the state, especially in the Lake Champlain Basin. Northern water snakes rarely stray far from the water and are most often seen basking on the shore or hanging from nearby vegetation. They are quick to flee back into the water at the first sign of danger. They are not typically aggressive unless they are acting in self-defense. However, they do have sharp teeth and have an anti-coagulant in their saliva which means that wounds caused by them can bleed for longer than usual. Despite this, they are not venomous.
Northern water snakes are large snakes and can range between three and five feet long. They are usually brown with dark brown or black crossbands and blotches. However, these snakes darken as they age so eventually them may end up being almost completely black. They have a very similar appearance to the venomous cottonmouth snake, although cottonmouths don’t live in Vermont.
Northern water snakes are active from spring to early winter. They are primarily diurnal, but can be active both during the day and night. They diet consists mainly of fish and amphibians. Due to their large size they are typically only preyed upon by large birds of prey, foxes, and raccoons.
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