Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

Website Search Box

Advanced Search


Nerodia fasciata compressicauda. Photo courtesy of W. Blihovde, University of Central Florida.


N. clarkii compressicauda, the mangrove salt marsh snake. Photo courtesy of C. Sewell, used with permission.


Mangrove salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) on left, Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata) on right. Photo courtesy of W. Blihovde, University of Central Florida.

Species Name: Nerodia clarkii Baird and Girard, 1853
Common Name: Salt Marsh Snake
Synonymy: Nerodia fasciata pictiventris
Nerodia fasciata compressicauda
  1. TAXONOMY

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Colubridae Nerodia

    Species Description

    Nerodia clarkii is a collective term assigned to a group that includes three subspecies (Conant and Collins 1998) of salt marsh snakes, 2 of which are found in the Indian River Lagoon system: the Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake, Nerodia clarkii taeniata; and N. clarkii compressicauda, the mangrove salt marsh snake.

    The Federally listed Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake, N. c. taeniata can breed with other subspecies of salt marsh snakes and also with a freshwater subspecies, Nerodia fasciata, producing hybrids with various mixtures of physical characteristics. Its original origin is unknown.

    The taxonomy of the salt marsh snakes has been, and continues to be somewhat controversial. Some experts have postulated N. c. taeniata is a relict hybrid produced from other snake subspecies during the Pleistocene (1.8 million years ago to 11,000 years ago). Others suggest that it is not truly a unique subspecies, but a population of N. c. compressicauda that has developed different physical characteristics in response to different selective pressures (Kochman 1992).

    Nerodia c. compressicauda, the Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake, is the larger of the 2 subspecies and has little to no dorsal striping. It also has a unique red phase that helps it blend in with the prop roots of mangroves.

    The threatened Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake, Nerodia c. taeniata, is the smallest of the salt marsh snakes and has a maximum length of 61 cm (2 feet) (Conant and Collins 1998). Its dorsal body coloration is generally rust to brown or olive, with 2 longitudinal stripes along each side of the body. The stripes eventually fragment near the tail and appear as blotches. The ventral surface has 1 row of pale colored spots. There are 21 - 25 scale rows at midbody, and the scales are keeled. The anal plate is divided.

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    Nerodia fasciata pictiventris

  2. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION

    Regional Occurrence

    In North America, Nerodia clarkii are found from the eastern coast of Florida to Texas.

    IRL Distribution

    Nerodia c. taeniata is restricted to the Atlantic coast of central Florida. Historically it occurred in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties; but, has recently been found only along a coastal strip in Volusia county (Kochman 1992). Surveys conducted at Kennedy Space Center (Canaveral National Seashore) in 1979 and 1980 found that most of the salt marsh snakes in that area were probably N. c. compressicauda or N. compressicauda/taeniata hybrids.

  3. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY

    Adult Size: 15-30 inches

    Locomotion

    Crawls; can also swim short distances in calm waters

    Reproduction

    Duration of the reproductive season for Nerodia clarkii is unknown. In captivity, the number of young per reproductive event ranges from 3 - 9.  Nerodia clarkii give birth to live young.

    Embryology

    Egg form in Nerodia clarkii is ovoviviparous.

  4. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES

    Salinity

    Some work on the physiology of this group has been completed, but little can be generalized for the entire salt marsh snake group (Kochman 1977). Salt marsh snakes are physiologically well adapted to exploit a saline environment (Lawson, et. al. 1991) despite the fact that they appear to have no salt excreting organs (Kochman 1977).The salinity range of adults and juveniles of this group is considered range from oligosaline to hypersaline. It is one of the few North American reptiles that is successful in estuarine habitats (Kochman 1992).

  5. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY

    Little work has been done on the ecology of the salt marsh snakes in the Indian River Lagoon system. Studies that have taken place have mostly been surveys for snakes. On the West Coast of Florida some work has been done on the ecology of N. c. compressicauda (Miller and Mushinsky 1990, Mushinsky and Miller 1993, Mullin 1994, and Mullin and Mushinsky 1995, 1997).

    Habitat

    The salt marsh snakes are generally terrestrial in nature, and can be found primarily in the littoral zone in muddy, vegetated areas. N. c. compressicauda, which primarily occupies red mangroves, can occasionally be seen moving through protected, slow moving waters. N. c. taeniata favors glasswort (Salicornia spp.), salt grass (Distichilis spicata), and sometimes, black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) (Lawson et. al. 1991) as habitat. They are primarily nocturnal and may seek shelter during the day in fiddler crab burrows. 

    Activity Time

    Evidence supports salt marsh snakes being primarily nocturnal (Carr and Goin 1942, Wright and Wright, 1957). However, scientists have found these snakes actively feeding and basking during the day.

  6. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

    Special Status

    Threatened

    Notes on Special Status

    As of 15 January 1997, Nerodia clarkii taeniata was federally listed as threatened in Indian River County and Brevard County, FL.

    Benefit in the IRL

    Aesthetic, scientific

  7. REFERENCES

    Carr AFJ, Goin CJ. 1942. Rehabilitation of Natrix sipedon taeniata Cope. Proc New England Zool Club 21: 47-54.

    Conant R, Collins JT. 1998. A field guide to reptiles & amphibians: eastern and central North America (Vol. 12). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 640 p.

    Kochman HI. 1977. Differentiation and hybridization in the Natrix fasciata complex (Reptilia: Serpentes): A nonmorphological approach. Unpublished Master's Thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville.

    Kochman HI, Christman SP. 1992. Atlantic salt marsh snake. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida 3: 111-116.

    Lawson R, Meier AJ, Frank PG, Moler PE. 1991. Allozyme variation and systematics of the Nerodia fasciata-Nerodia clarkii complex of water snakes (Serpentes: Colubridae). Copeia 1991: 638-659.

    Miller DE, Mushinsky HR. 1990. Foraging ecology and prey size in the mangrove water snake, Nerodia fasciata compressicauda. Copeia 1990: 1099-1106.

    Mullin SJ. 1994. Life history characteristics of Nerodia clarkii compressicauda at Placido Bayou, Florida. J Herpetol 28: 371-374.

    Mullin SJ, Mushinsky HR. 1995. Foraging ecology of the mangrove salt marsh snake, Nerodia clarkii compressicauda: effects of vegetational density. Amphibia-Reptilia 16: 167-175.

    Mullin SJ, Mushinsky HR. 1997. Use of experimental enclosures to examine foraging success in water snakes: a case study. J Herpetol 31: 565-569.

    Mushinsky HR, Miller DE. 1993. Predation on water snakes: ontogenetic and interspecific considerations. Copeia 1993: 660-665.

    Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of snakes of the United States and Canada. Comstock Pub Assoc. 1105 p.

Report by: J. Dineen, Smithsonian Marine Station
Submit additional information, photos or comments to:
irl_webmaster@si.edu
Page last updated: July 25, 2001

[ TOP ]