Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)
The broad-banded watersnake is a beautiful semiaquatic snake named for its broad, irregular shaped bands or blotches along the back. The bands may be brown, red-brown, or black and are separated by yellow or yellowish gray. There is often a faint dark line running diagonally from the eye past the corner of the mouth. The belly is yellow and boldly marked with black. The young are more brightly colored than the adults. When threatened and not allowed to escape, this species will flatten its head and neck and try vigorously to defend itself. Watersnakes bite viciously in defense and also secrete a strong-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail.
Similar species: This and other watersnakes are often confused with the venomous western cottonmouth and needlessly killed. The true cottonmouth is more heavy-bodied with a larger, chunky head; has a facial pit between the nostril and eye on either side of the head; is darker; and has a light line from each eye to the corner of the mouth.
Length: 22 to 36 inches.
Normally most active at night, is it sometimes seen basking in sunlight on logs or among branches above the water in cypress swamps, river sloughs, or oxbow lakes. Like other watersnakes, broad-banded watersnakes are often mistaken for western cottonmouths and needlessly killed.
Foods include fish, frogs, toads, and tadpoles.
Normally active between late March and October. Courtship and mating occur in April and early May. The young are born alive during late July, August, or early September. A litter may include 7-40 young, which range in length from about 7-9 inches.
For as long as there have been humans, snakes have captured our imaginations. In myth, religion, and story, snakes perform the role of seducer, sneak, guardian, healer, killer, and transformer. They symbolize power, wisdom, sexuality, and life itself, and have been worshiped and reviled.
Snakes use organs in their tongues and mouths to detect odors and track their prey. Apparently, this works not only for land snakes but also for watersnakes like this one, making them efficient predators of the fish, frogs, and tadpoles they eat.
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.