Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake

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Is the Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Flat-Tailed Watersnake, Salt Marsh Watersnake

Scientific name: Nerodia clarkii compressicauda

The basics:
The Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake breaks the stereotypes commonly held about North American watersnakes, in that it is small, often very colorful, and not overly-aggressive. Despite this, and the fact that it exhibits amazing adaptations to life in marine and brackish waters, this fascinating serpent remains largely ignored by snake enthusiasts – hard to understand! The Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake is found along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of southern Florida, throughout the Florida Keys and on Cuba’s northern coast. True to its name, this snake favors mangrove swamps, where it is often seen basking on exposed roots. It also inhabits coastal salt marshes, brackish estuaries, and associated canals and marshy areas. Two additional subspecies, the Atlantic and the Gulf Salt Marsh Snakes, have been described.

Appearance / health:
The most colorful and variable of North America’s watersnakes, the Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake may be olive-green, black, gray, yellowish, orange, brown or red; dark bands and stripes are common in some populations, while others are unmarked. To further complicate matters, the various subspecies interbreed where their ranges overlap, and they also hybridize with the Florida Watersnake. If hobbyists ever take an interest in this species, spectacular color morphs will almost be guaranteed! As an adaptation to the strong currents of their preferred habitats, the tail of these powerful swimmers is laterally compressed. Adults are small by watersnake standards, averaging only 15-30 inches in length, with a record of approximately 37 inches.

Behavior / temperament:
Mangrove Salt Marsh Snakes are less aggressive than their larger relatives, but wild-caught individuals will bite. However, most will tame-down in time, and good results have also been achieved with captive-bred individuals. They do become very excited when food is scented and will bite wildly at such times, so care must be taken at feeding time.

An adult Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake can be kept in a 20 gallon aquarium. Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. Despite their aquatic tendencies, all 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 should be provided. Stout branches positioned below a heat bulb make ideal 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: 70-78 F; Basking temperature: 85-88.

Mangrove Salt Marsh Snakes produce watery waste products and 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.

Mangrove Salt Marsh Snakes feed mainly upon marine and brackish water fishes. Those that live near freshwater (i.e. at river mouths) also take frogs, tadpoles, and salamanders. Pets do well on a diet comprised of freshwater and marine minnows and shiners; where possible, a variety of bait store and pet store species should be offered. 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. Like all watersnakes, they appear “crazed” when food is scented, and feed ravenously…most need 2-3 weekly meals.

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, 2-20 in number, are born alive and greet the world ready to chow down on minnows and other small fishes.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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