With owning a pond comes the inevitable occurrence of running into all kinds of wildlife. Most will be harmless creatures seeking water, but you will undoubtedly run across a snake or two. Snakes can be beneficial creatures to have around, as they control populations of rodents that may otherwise find their way into your house.
However, it is important to know the difference between a harmless water snake and a water moccasin - as a false identification can lead to a devastating outcome. Unless you can confidently tell the difference between harmless and venomous snakes, it is best to always treat all snakes as if they are venomous.
There are several key differences that can help identify which of these snakes you may happen upon. The most noticeable difference is the shape of the head. A water snake’s head will be slender and flow smoothly into the neck, while the head of a water moccasin is far more blocky, and the neck much more narrow as it meets the head. Also, water moccasins are commonly referred to as “cotton mouth” because the inside of their mouth is white, which they often show as a sign of defense.
The second difference would be the body shape. Water snakes tend to have a long and slender body type, while water moccasins have a short and stocky build. However, this alone should not be used as a key identifier as body shape can vary from snake to snake. Also, in some cases, the water moccasin can be lighter in color. However, both snakes can vary from brown to black, so color should not be used alone to reach a conclusion of the snake’s identity.
Next is pupil shape. If you find yourself close enough to see the pupil of the snake, water snakes have a round pupil, and water moccasins have a vertical pupil.
The water moccasin overall appears much more aggressive with a predominant head, stocky body, and vertical pupil, but as mentioned before, unless you can confidently, easily, and properly identify a snake, it is best to treat it as a venomous snake to avoid any danger.
Brad Metzler, President