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Reptiles/What kind of snake is this?



I live in Southern Maryland and my father was just telling us about a snake he encountered in the swamp near our farm.  He said that the snake actually stood up and had a flared neck.  I am not so sure about this because I have never seen anything like this snake.  I am attaching an image of the snake.  I would greatly appreciate you opinion.



The snake in the photo appears to be a water snake.  This is a non-venomous (or more accurately, mildly venomous but harmless) species that eats mainly fish and frogs.  Nerodia sipedon sipedon, the Northern water snake, is what it looks most like, from your photo.

Nerodia species tend to be defensive and will vigorously defend themselves with a show of aggression and biting if disturbed, but their bite rarely causes any reaction at all.  (Mild swelling at the bite site is occasionally reported, generally only if the snake is allowed to chew on a person for a while).

The snake's coloration is designed to enable it to slightly mimic the appearance of the Northern Copperhead, which is a venomous species. Coloration varies from almost black to a reddish color, such as the one in your photo.

Now, this particular snake doesn't have a hood, but it may inflate its neck when upset, as many native snakes do. Another snake native to your area does 'hood'.  The Eastern Hognose snake is America's greatest bluffer, and is one of the most interesting snakes in the country (along with the Western hognose).  This snake's coloration suggests 'rattlesnake', (or copperhead) but its claim to fame is the amazing performance it puts on in order to defend itself from predators.  It also ranges from dark gray to reddish.

First, it puts on a show of amazing aggression, puffing itself up, hooding, striking closed-mouthed, and hissing loudly.  It's extremely rare for the snake to ever actually bite during this performance!  If this tactic fails to ward off an attacker, it switches gears, and puts on a performance an opossum could only dream of.  It begins to writhe around as though in agony, releases a stinky musk, flips onto its back, and comes to rest with its mouth dramatically open, tongue hanging out...dead!

The only flaw in its performance is that if you try to flip it back upright, it turns itself over again, lol.

Once the coast seems to be clear, it peeks to check, then turns over, and crawls away.
(I'm dead, honest, don't eat me!)

Like the Nerodia species, the hognose snake is harmless, though it has a very mild venom (it might cause local swelling if it were to chew on you for a while).  Its close relative, the Western hognose, is a very popular pet snake.  In spite of the vigorously aggressive-looking bluff, these snakes rarely bite, and have a very placid disposition in captivity.  Eastern hognose snakes specialize mainly in eating toads and other amphibians.  Western hognoses are more popular as pets because they are more adaptable and can be convinced to eat mice in captivity.

So, ensure your father knows that any North American snake that hoods is just a harmless bluffer, and should be left alone. :)


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Donna Fernstrom


My particular focus is on snakes and lizards, but I have a decent smattering of knowledge of turtles and crocodilians as well, plus the experience to get relevant information quickly if I don't have it on hand in my brain. I can answer questions on captive care, diet, breeding, incubation of eggs, starting hatchlings, and more. I am particularly experienced with ball pythons, Lygodactylus geckos and other small lizards with similar care requirements, leopard geckos, and garter snakes.


I am a professional breeder of ball python morphs, Lygodactylus (dwarf) geckos, and mourning geckos. I have begun working with Irian Jaya carpet pythons, and plan to expand to include more gecko species in the future. I also have a background breeding leopard geckos, and have kept several other species of small lizards, snakes, and a water turtle.

Nebraska Herpetological Society (

I have many care sheets published on my own website.

High School Graduate. Extensively self-taught due to high interest in wildlife and reptile care.

Awards and Honors
Fauna Classifieds board of inquiry Good Guy Certification

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