Snakes and Ponds

Having snakes in a pond is a matter of taste. Snakes often find their way to your pond on their own and can sometimes become pests. They are at the top of the food chain so only well-acclimated ponds are capable of supporting them. I choose not to keep them because of my colony of frogs.

Snakes. Southern black racer | Natural Pond Lover

Snakes could be included in the “pest category” for many pond owners. My love for ponds remains rivaled only by my love for snakes. I have nearly forty pet snakes, all being non-venomous species. They’re all kept in my house and I don’t release them into my ponds.

Everglades rat snake | Natural Pond Lover
The Everglades rat snake.

While I have thought of adding native water snakes to my ponds, I have not. Here are the reasons. Snakes are one of the top predators of your pond. Being at the top of the food chain means that fish and frogs are fair game. In fact, a couple of water snakes would clean out one of my ponds fairly quickly. When their food sources become depleted, they move on to greener pastures.

“Snakes on a pond”

Adding a top predator to a pond too early could lead to having to start all over again. I would have to rebuild most of the ecosystem. Bringing in a few water snakes would only be warranted in a control situation. In other words, an overabundance of fish and frogs. Until that day ever comes, I’ll enjoy the snakes that I keep inside.

A banded water snake | Natural pond Lover
A banded water snake

I discourage snakes from hanging out around my ponds these days. So far I’ve only had a southern black racer visit. These snakes are the most common species that I have found on my property.

Southern black racers are not particularly fond of swimming in the water. They do, however, enjoy a drink on a hot summers day. Racers also take advantage of the shade a pond provides. This species is more interested in chasing around brown anoles more than my frogs. When I have been able to catch them, I relocate them to wooded areas outside my subdivision.

When you think about it, snakes have a tough life. No limbs, deaf and most humans hating them makes it difficult to survive in the modern world.

Snakes and Ponds | Natural Pond Lover
The venomous coral snake found near a pond in Dunnellon, Florida

Common species of snakes found around ponds

Banded water snake – The banded water snake is probably the most common of the water snake family. They’re livebearers meaning they don’t lay eggs. Although non-venomous, these harmless snakes are aggressive when confronted in the wild. They’re also known for emitting a foul-smelling musk when disturbed and strict repeatedly at any would-be threat to their life.

Unlike so many other species of snake that prefer rodents as their staple diet, the banded water snake prefers fish and amphibians. I once experimented with this species. I bought a baby banded water snake from my local pet shop who only ate fish, guppies actually. Naturally, he wouldn’t take rodents.

I bought a couple of pieces of tilapia from the supermarket and soaked a pinkie mouse in a plastic baggie with the fish. The smell of the fish tricked the snake into eating it. After about five feedings, I offered a mouse without the fish scent. The snake successfully transitioned to rodents.

Snakes and ponds | Natural Pond Lover

Feeding a pet snake

I prefer feeding my snakes mice because they can be frozen and stored in the freezer. It’s simply a matter of convenience. The second reason? Snakes feces is even more repugnant when fish are their staple diet. This makes the snake’s enclosure more difficult to clean. Water snakes generally don’t like being handled. While they may not make practically good pets, these snakes make a great display animal.

Cottonmouth, aka water moccasin

The cottonmouth is a venomous snake in the pit viper family. They’re common in wetlands and are easily found in their native range. Similar to the banded water snake, cottonmouths are also livebearers. They’re extremely aggressive when met and best left alone. Cottonmouth venom is more hemotoxic than neurotoxic. Hemotoxins destroy blood tissue while neurotoxins attack the central nervous system.

Banded Water Snake | Natural Pond Lover
Some confuse the harmless banded water snake with the cottonmouth/water moccasin. If you don't know what species of snake you're dealing with, never attempt to hold or kill it. Simply walk the other direction.

Human fatalities are rare but have occurred. It’s possible to lose a digit if bit on the finger. A cottonmouth bite is a medical emergency. As such, one should go to the hospital if bitten without delay. If being venomous wasn’t enough, these snakes also emit a foul-smelling musk.

A mistake in venomous snake handling is costly

I got bit by a Florida cottonmouth in 2001. Captive-bred, this particular specimen was a fairly docile pet. After a snake sheds, they’re often more aggressive than normal. I took a shortcut while cleaning the snake’s enclosure after it shed out of its old skin.

Instead of safely placing the snake in a designated holding tank, I placed it on the floor. As the snake took off, I attempted to tail it. In doing so, he turned around and nipped my pinkie finger. Luckily, only one fang penetrated my skin. If I followed proper protocol, this bite wouldn’t have happened.

I ended up in the emergency room the night after Christmas. Localized pain and swelling were my main symptoms. The swelling spread all the way up to my elbow. Aside from that, I was very lucky. I didn’t get sick or lose the finger which sustained the bite.

Envenomation was minimal because only one fang penetrated my skin. This particular specimen was not particularly aggressive which is another reason he only nipped me as opposed to coming at me with full force. It’s not an experience I would care to repeat and I no longer keep venomous snakes as pets.

Garter snake

While the garter snake is not considered a water snake, they are common around ponds and wetlands. They eat guppies, worms and small amphibians. Garter snakes are often the most common snake found in their natural range.

Nonvenomous and harmless, the garter snake only emits musk when disturbed. I’ve found that this snake only bites when first handled. They quickly calm down once they understand that you’re not trying to eat them. 

Importance of snakes and their contribution to humans

Snakes are also very important to our ecosystem and to human survival. How you may ask? Many snake species depend on rodents as their staple diet. Rodents carry many kinds of disease. Still not convinced that snakes are important to humans? 

Yellow rat snake | Natural Pond Lover
A yellow rat snake demonstrating the South Carolina phase.

I suggest you read about the black death. The black death was a plague that occurred in the 1300s. It wiped out up to 60% of Europe’s population. Humans contracted the Plague from infected fleas. Fleas got the Plague from rats who served as their host. Bubonic plague is the disease by name and it still occurs today. Think about the next time you or someone you know is trying to kill a harmless snake.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that snakes are not evil creatures. Like any other being on planet earth, they’re just trying to survive. If you’re afraid of snakes or don’t like them, it’s best to leave them alone. Most venomous bites occur when a person is trying to molest or kill a snake. Snakes are shy and would rather get out of your way. They never chase after you trying to land a bite.

Snakes and Ponds