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Florida Green Watersnake

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Is the Florida Green Watersnake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Florida Watersnake

Scientific name: Nerodia floridana

The basics:
The Florida Green Watersnake is, at 6 feet in length, the largest and most impressive of North America’s 10 watersnake species. If you pine for a Green Anaconda but lack the space for an 18-foot-long pet, this ill-tempered but fascinating beast might be a reasonable alternative. The Florida Green Watersnake is found in southern South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and - surprise, surprise - most of Florida. It favors swamps, marshes, canals, ox bow lakes and other sluggish bodies of water, and sometimes enters brackish-water habitats. Large populations are established in the Everglades and the Okefenokee Swamp. The Florida Green Watersnake rarely strays far from the water’s edge, but is fond of basking on semi-submerged logs and over-hanging branches.

Appearance / health:
Robust and heavily-built, Florida Green Watersnakes are most impressive. Adults average 3 to 5 feet in length, with a record of 6 feet, 2 inches. Although most are a rather drab olive-green to brownish in color, some exhibit attractive reddish highlights. The body may be unmarked or sport faded black bars. Youngsters are boldly patterned with numerous black marks. Hybrids, some quite beautiful, occur wherever the range of the Florida Green Watersnake meets that of related species.

Behavior / temperament:
Florida Green Watersnakes are not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced keeper. Wild-caught individuals will first threaten with an open-mouthed display (in imitation of the venomous Cottonmouth, perhaps) and then strike repeatedly. Deep cuts that bleed profusely (due to an anti-coagulant in the saliva) generally follow such encounters. While some will tame-down in time, better results can be achieved with captive-bred individuals. Even then, they may strike at nearby movements, and all become very excited when food is scented…so don’t handle (or cook!) fish when working with these brutes!

Housing:
Except when hungry, Florida Green Watersnakes are rather inactive. An average adult can be kept in a 55 - 75 gallon aquarium. Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. Newspapers tend to become displaced by their activities, and render cleaning difficult. Despite their aquatic tendencies, watersnakes quickly develop fungal skin disorders if kept on damp substrates. A large water bowl, filled to a point where it will not overflow when the snake enters, will suit their needs. A dry shelter and should be provided, but well-habituated individuals may be at ease basking in the open. Stout branches positioned below a heat bulb are their favorite basking sites. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips. As there is some evidence that UVB radiation may be beneficial, a low-output UVB bulb (i.e. the Zoo Med 2.0) should be used. Ambient temperature: 75-80 F; Basking temperature: 85-88

Watersnakes produce copious, watery waste products and require more upkeep than similarly-sized snakes. They are best kept on cypress mulch or other absorbent substrates. As many in the trade are wild-caught, new arrivals should be seen by a veterinarian.

Diet:
Florida Green Watersnakes feed on fishes, frogs, tadpoles, and aquatic salamanders such as amphiumas and sirens. Crayfish and other snakes may also be taken, but rodents are generally rejected. Although pets do well on a diet comprised solely of minnows and shiners, there is some evidence that they benefit from a more varied diet. Tilapia, trout, perch and others are all relished, as will be any small native species you might collect or find at bait stores. Be sure to trim spines from catfish, sunfish and similarly-armed species. Long term use of goldfish and frozen fishes has been linked to health concerns. As fish bones, skin and internal organs are vital to your pet’s health, cut strips of fish should only be used when whole fishes are not available. Watersnakes appear crazed when food is scented, and feed ravenously…most need 2-3 weekly meals.

Breeding:
A slight drop in temperature (68 F by night, 72-80 F by day) will stimulate breeding. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as biting may occur during courtship. The young, 20 to over 100 (for large females) in number, are born alive after a gestation period of 2-3 months. Newborns range from 8 ½ - 10 inches in length, and greet the world ready to chow down on minnows and other small fishes.

Written by Frank Indiviglio