Should we go back in the water?
April 3, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Please help us identify this snake.

Friends saw this monster yesterday while fishing on a small lake just outside of Memphis, Tn. That thing is huuuge. Can anyone tell us what it might be? It was about five feet long. Thanks!
posted by raisingsand to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
It might be a mud snake, based on the size, stripes and location.
posted by brina at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2011

Also, here is a useful little snake identification guide.
posted by brina at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2011

I think mud snakes are more black/red. Maybe a northern water snake, but they only get to about 4 feet.
posted by dayintoday at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2011

Absolutely not a mud snake. Almost certainly a species of water snake. If you made me pick one, I'd say the Midland Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis).

Other water snake species that have been found in the Memphis area include the Yellow-Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster), the Mississippi Green Water Snake (Nerodia cyclopion), the Diamond-backed Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer), and the Broad-banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata confluens), and I don't think it's one of those, with degrees of confidence ranging from probably not to metaphysical certitude. Google the Latin names and compare.

In general, water snakes can be a bit belligerent, and may bite if harassed, but they present no danger. They're basically overgrown garter snakes, bigger and scrappier.

Re: only getting to about four feet. Casual and inexperienced observers regularly overstate the size of snakes they see. Six-footers often turn out to be three feet long when they're caught and measured. Wouldn't disqualify the ID based on size estimates.
posted by mcwetboy at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Brown water snake?
posted by galadriel at 2:41 PM on April 3, 2011

galadriel: Can't be a Brown: they're not found in Tennessee.

When trying to identify a species, pay attention to range maps, especially with animals that don't get around much. Water snakes aren't migratory birds -- for one to show up hundreds of miles outside its range is extremely unlikely. Because it kinda-sorta looks like a picture on the Internet -- that's not a reliable means of identification. There are a lot of look-alikes, especially to the inexperienced eye.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:12 PM on April 3, 2011

Seconding brown water snake. We have Texas brown water snakes here on our lake. It looks very very similar. They are generally around 3 or 4 feet. I did have the opportunity to measure one being invisible in a bush at over 6 ft. though.
posted by txmon at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2011

It's a water snake, possibly of the Natrix genus. I used to see them in Arkansas all the time. They'll try to eat the fish off your stringer and can bite if riled, but are otherwise harmless.
posted by metagnathous at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2011

Hey, I don't see a map on that Wikipedia page, do you? But I did check the range description, which says SE US, as far north as VA and as far west as LA. Sounded like it could encompass TN to me.
posted by galadriel at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2011

Best answer: galadriel: I'm using the range maps from the definitive herpetological monograph on the subject, which I happen to own and which happens to have county-by-county, species-by-species range maps for water snakes. Also, I was speaking of range maps -- and species ranges -- in general.

You might also try the Snakes of Tennessee page, which is linked to by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, or the Atlas of Reptiles in Tennessee. Neither list the Brown Water Snake.
posted by mcwetboy at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: We are hoping it is NOT an adult banded Western Cottonmouth. They are VERY common around here, and if this giant was one of those, none of us are getting anywhere near this lake in the future. My friends did not get close enough to see the head.
posted by raisingsand at 2:35 PM on April 4, 2011

The color in your pic looks to me closer to the Cottonmouth than the Brown snake pics, but snake colors vary with age - and digital pics and computer monitors can be misleading.

Yeah, be cautious.

This PDF link ( from McWetby's post above, looks like it's a common question, and not necessarily an easy one to answer at a glance.
posted by Xoebe at 6:00 PM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the help! We're not getting close enough to tell whether it's a cottonmouth or a water snake! But we think the cottonmouth's color "muddies" a bit as they mature, so have decided this is probably a water snake.
posted by raisingsand at 9:01 AM on April 5, 2011

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