Diamond-backed Watersnake

Nerodia rhombifer (Hallowell, 1852)

Key Characters: Dark chainlike pattern on the back; back scales strongly keeled; anal plate divided.

Similar Species: Mississippi Green Watersnake, Cottonmouth. See the Key to Snakes of Illinois for help with identification.

Subspecies: None are currently recognized.

Description: Large (up to 135 cm TL), stout yellow or light green snake with 25 – 37 dark Y-shaped side markings that meet on the back to enclose a series of light diamonds down the middle of the back. Pattern brightest in juveniles, obscured in some large adults. Belly yellow with dark spots or half-moons that are most numerous toward the tail. Male has conspicuous papillae under the chin.

Habitat: Quiet, permanent backwaters, swamps, sloughs, lakes, and sluggish streams in the southern third of the state, often in very warm water.

Natural History: One of the largest and most pugnacious snakes in Illinois, it bites and defecates repeatedly when handled. Often basks on limbs overhanging water. Active February through September, it hibernates in beaver lodges, muskrat burrows, and mud bottoms. Mates in late April or May and gives birth to 20 or more young from late August through mid-October. Newborn 25-27 cm TL. Diet consists mainly of fish, but frogs are eaten as well. Predators include other snakes and large shore birds. Large numbers are killed by people who mistake them for cottonmouths.

Status: Common along river bottoms and lowland lakes.

Etymology: Nerodia – neros (Greek) meaning flowing, liquid; or (Greek) for Nereis, a Greek sea nymph; rhombifer – rhombus (Latin) meaning ‘an equilateral parallelogram with unequal pairs of angles, diamond; ifera (Latin) meaning bearing.

Original Description: Hallowell, E. 1852. Descriptions of new species of reptiles inhabiting North America. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia. 6:177-182

Type Specimen: Holotype. ANSP 5047.

Type Locality: “the Arkansas River and its tributaries near the northern boundary of the Creek Nation”.

Original Name: Tropidinotus rhombifera Hallowell, 1852

Nomenclatural History: Garman (1892) listed this species as Nerodia sipedon Var. rhombifer.