BY ANITA WESTERVELT
SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR
One reptile, the diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer), may still be observed in the Rio Grande Valley while temperatures remain pleasant.
Diamondback water snakes have a broad range which includes all of the Valley counties and all but the northwest counties of Texas. The range extends up to Iowa, east to Tennessee and around the Gulf Coast states to Alabama. They are also found in northern Mexico in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
Found predominantly near water sources such as ponds, resacas, irrigations ditches, swamps and rivers, the diamondback water snake is nonvenomous. That is not an invitation to attempt to handle one — diamondback water snakes have sharp teeth and a painful bite. According to herpsofttexas.org, it “is a zealous biter and will bite an attacker repeatedly. The attacker is also frequently covered with musky feces released by the agitated snake.”
The average length of a diamondback water snake is about 30 to 48 inches. Females are generally bigger and heavier than the male.
About 70% of snakes lay eggs, others, like the diamondback water snake, do not. Zoologically speaking, they are viviparous, which means, in the case of the diamondback water snake, that the eggs remain in the snake’s body where they develop and the young are born live. An adult female can give birth to an average of 47 young, each of which can measure between 8 and 13 inches. The young snakes are independent as soon as they are born.
Diamondback water snakes are considered food generalists. Snake-facts.weebly.com lists a comprehensive diet which includes small and slow fishes, frogs, toads, tadpoles, minnows, salamanders and crayfish. Occasionally, they eat young turtles, worms, leeches, insects and sometimes, other snakes. The diamondback water snake will also readily feed on carrion.
Diamondback water snakes are active, day-time hunters. Even though considered one of the largest snake species in the U.S., they are prey to snapping turtles, opossums, raccoons, foxes and other species of snakes.
Why the diamondback water snake may still be making appearances is that snakes in warm southern states don’t go into hibernation; they go into what is called brumation, according to snakeprotection.com.
Whereas hibernation is a deep sleep, in brumation, snakes don’t actually sleep, but their bodies acclimate to a lower temperature.
Their metabolism slows, they become less active and less inclined to feed.
Snakes need a heat source in order to aid digestion.
They do need to drink water regularly. On warm days, brumating snakes sometimes come out to bask in the sunshine.
While not considered endangered or threatened, the diamondback water snake is often mistaken for the venomous cotton mouth or rattlesnake and are killed unnecessarily because of this mistaken identity.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urges citizens to please not kill a snake — even a venomous one.
Education is the first step in learning to respect snakes, which serve a valuable function in the environment. Enter “tpwd.gov snakes” into your search engine for more information about Texas snakes.