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Watersnake Free Informational Brochure
Common Name: Lake Erie Watersnake (SSAR circular), or alternatively Lake Erie Water Snake (CNAH list)
Actually, both spellings are accepted depending on who you ask. We'll let you decide which you would like to use.
Scientific Name: Nerodia sipedon insularum
Coloration: The differences in coloration between watersnakes residing along the shoreline of the Western Lake Erie islands and those that are
commonly observed within the nearby mainland marshes were first described by herpetologists Roger Conant and William Clay in the late 1930's.
The classically described Lake Erie Watersnake is solid grey and patternless on its dorsal (back) side, with a cream colored vent (belly) also
lacking any pattern. However, since island snake populations are not completely isolated from the mainland, the color pattern of LEWS is more
accurately described as being reduced from that of the Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) which has pronounced patterning. In
fact, populations of LEWS have an extraordinary amount of variation in the amount of patterning, making their identification based on color
pattern alone very difficult. Coloration of LEWS are currently described by researchers as being either Banded, Unbanded or Intermediate.
Reproduction: Lake Erie watersnakes mate from late May through early June. During this time snakes can frequently be found in large “mating
balls” which typically consist of one female and several males. After a summer of eating every goby in sight the females give live birth in late
August/early September to around 30 pencil sized young.
Diet: Historically the LEWS diet consisted of roughly half amphibians and half native fish like madtom, stonecat, logperch, spottail shiners, etc.
However, over time their diet has changed drastically. Human development on the islands led to huge decreases in frog populations. During the
1990’s the invasive round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) established itself in the great lakes and extirpated many of the native fish that LEWS
used to eat. Today, over 90% of the LEWS diet consists of round goby with the remainder being made up of mudpuppies and what native fish
remain at the bottom of Lake Erie. Check out this video to see a LEWS foraging underwater:
|Can You Identify The
Snakes in this Picture?
Range map of all subspecies of the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus). Notice they are nowhere
Are LEWS venomous? NO!
NONE of the snakes found on the Lake Erie Islands are venomous. Timber rattlesnakes used to be found on some of the islands but have not
been found since the 1960's. Although people often claim that LEWS are cottonmouths/water moccasins these venomous snakes seldom
venture any further north than the Ohio River. How can you tell? The photo below shows the differences between venomous and
non-venomous snake heads. Non-venomous snakes like LEWS have rounded pupils and lack the heat sensing pits of their venomous
counterparts. Venomous snakes have vertical pupils and their heads are much broader than non-venomous species.
|Underwater video of a LEWS foraging in Lake Erie