Can a Snake Bite You Underwater? (common water snakes)

When we swim in a river, lake, or even the ocean, the last thing most of us think about is snake bites. But since some snakes can swim, can a snake bite you underwater?

It is unlikely for a snake to bite you underwater, but some aquatic snakes like the cottonmouth and sea snakes have the ability to do so and both are poisonous. 

In this article, we will delve into the world of water-dwelling snakes to address this concern.

We’ll begin by identifying which common water snakes are proficient swimmers and whether they can deliver a venomous or non-venomous bite underwater. Next, we’ll investigate the conduct of water moccasins and their degree of hostility towards people.

Furthermore, we will explore the fascinating realm of sea snakes – where they reside and how aggressive they might be.

Lastly, our discussion on whether a snake can bite you underwater would not be complete without understanding why these reptiles might resort to such an action in the first place. Stay tuned as we unravel these mysteries surrounding our slithering friends.

Table of Contents:

Which Snakes Are Found in Water?

Besides sea snakes, there are two common snakes that can live in or near water – the cottonmouth (water moccasin) and the water snake.

Not only can snakes bite underwater, but water moccasins join a list of more than 20 species of venomous snakes in the United States, making them even more of a threat. In this section, we will discuss these aquatic species and their habitats.

But beyond snakes that tend to live in the water, what about the rumors that rattlesnakes like to go in swimming pools? Click that link to read my article on that very subject. If you own a pool, you MUST know the answer!

Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins)

Cottonmouths, also known as Water Moccasins, are a widely-recognized venomous snake species native to North America. Cottonmouths are commonly found in wetlands and other aquatic habitats across the southeastern United States.

These pit vipers have potent venoms which can cause severe tissue damage and affect red blood cells if not treated promptly with medical attention.

Harmless Water Snakes

In contrast to cottonmouths, harmless water snakes like those from the genus Nerodia play an important role in maintaining ecosystems by controlling small mammal populations near bodies of water. Although nonvenomous, they may still bite when threatened or provoked; however, their bites do not pose any significant health risks to humans.

Harmless Water Snake: Typically lighter-colored body with dark bands or blotches; lacks the distinctive white interior of cottonmouth’s mouth.

Sea Snakes

Sea snakes, some of the most venomous aquatic species in existence, inhabit tropical waters around the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

They have adapted to life underwater by developing a flattened tail for swimming, specialized glands to excrete excess salt, and an ability to extract oxygen through their skin while submerged. Despite their potent venoms, sea snakes are generally not aggressive toward humans unless provoked or accidentally encountered.

Different Types of Sea Snakes

  1. True Sea Snakes: These snakes belong to the family Hydrophiidae and spend most of their lives underwater hunting fish, eels, and crustaceans.
  2. Sea Kraits: Belonging to the family Laticaudidae, these semi-aquatic reptiles split their time between land (for laying eggs) and water (for hunting).

In conclusion, snakes that live in or near water can pose a threat to humans. While some, like harmless water snakes, are not venomous and rarely bite humans, others, like cottonmouths and sea snakes, are venomous and can cause serious harm. It’s important to be aware of the types of snakes that live in your area and take precautions to avoid encounters with them.

Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, are the most common type of snake found in water.

Though not as common, other serpentine species such as copperheads and rattlers can be spotted slithering or basking near the water’s edge. Moving on to our next heading: Are Water Moccasins Aggressive?

Key Takeaway: 

Water moccasins and harmless water snakes are common aquatic species found in North America, with the former being venomous and potentially dangerous to humans. Sea snakes, which are some of the most venomous aquatic species, can be found in tropical waters around the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean but generally do not pose a threat unless provoked or accidentally encountered.

Are Water Moccasins Aggressive?

Common to the southeastern United States, water moccasins (cottonmouths) are a type of venomous snake typically found in or near bodies of water like rivers, lakes, swamps, and irrigation ditches. They can be found near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, swamps, and irrigation ditches. But are these aquatic reptiles aggressive toward humans? Let’s find out.

The Behavior of Water Moccasins

Generally speaking, water moccasins are not considered to be an overly aggressive species.

Though they may not be naturally inclined to act aggressively, water moccasins will react if they sense danger or are cornered. In fact, their name “cottonmouth” comes from the defensive display where they open their mouth wide to reveal a white interior when confronted by potential predators or humans.

Misconceptions About Cottonmouth Aggression

  • Mistaken identity: Many people confuse harmless water snakes (genus Nerodia) with cottonmouths due to similar appearances. This often leads to exaggerated claims about their aggression and danger.
  • Fear factor: Since cottonmouths have potent venoms that can cause severe tissue damage and even death in some cases if left untreated, fear plays a significant role in how people perceive them.
  • Rare incidents: While there have been instances where cottonmouth bites occurred without provocation (Tropical Journal of Medicine Case Report), these events are rare compared to other snakebite scenarios involving accidental contact or handling attempts.

Preventing Cottonmouth Encounters and Bites

To avoid getting bitten by a cottonmouth, it’s essential to take some precautions when you’re near bodies of water in their habitat. Here are some tips:

  1. Maintain a safe distance: If you spot a snake, give it plenty of space and allow it to move away on its own.
  2. Avoid tall grass and debris near water: Snakes often hide in these areas; therefore, stick to clear paths or wear long pants and boots for protection.
  3. Be cautious at night: Many snakes, including cottonmouths, are more active during nighttime hours. Use flashlights when walking around dark areas close to the water’s edge.

In summary, while cottonmouths may not be as aggressive as commonly believed, they can still pose a threat if provoked or accidentally encountered. By understanding their behavior and taking necessary precautions around their habitats, we can minimize the risk of an unwanted encounter with this venomous species.

It is essential for those living in rural areas to be aware of the potential danger posed by water moccasins. Let’s look into the locations of sea snakes and if they present a similar danger as water moccasins.

Key Takeaway: 

Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, are not considered to be overly aggressive but will defend themselves if threatened. Misconceptions about their aggression often stem from mistaken identity and fear of their potent venom. To avoid getting bitten by a cottonmouth, it’s important to maintain a safe distance, avoid tall grass and debris near water, and be cautious at night when they are more active.

Where Are Sea Snakes Found and Are They Aggressive?

Sea snakes inhabit various coastal habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, and open ocean.

Despite their potent venoms that can cause severe health issues or even death to humans if bitten, these fascinating creatures play an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Distribution of Sea Snakes

  • Australia: The northern coastlines harbor numerous sea snake species like the olive-headed seasnake (Aipysurus laevis) and the highly venomous yellow-bellied seasnake (Pelamis platurus).
  • Southeast Asia: Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have abundant populations of sea kraits (genus Laticauda) which are known for their distinct banded patterns.
  • Oceania: Pacific islands including Fiji and Papua New Guinea host several unique species such as turtle-headed seasnakes (Aipysurus eydouxii) inhabiting shallow reef areas.

Nature & Behavior: How Aggressive Are They?

In general terms, sea snakes tend to be less aggressive than many land-dwelling counterparts. Most encounters between humans and sea snakes occur when the snake feels threatened or cornered. Despite not typically exhibiting hostile behavior, sea snakes should still be treated with caution due to their toxic venom.

However, bites from sea snakes are relatively rare due to their elusive nature and preference for staying away from human activity.

In fact, a study published in the Tropical Journal of Medicine states that there have been only a few cases reported worldwide over several decades. If you encounter a sea snake while swimming or diving, it’s best to keep your distance and not make any sudden movements.

Precautions & Safety Measures

If you live near an area with known sea snake populations or plan on visiting such regions, consider taking precautions like wearing protective footwear when walking along shorelines and avoiding reaching into crevices where snakes may be hiding. Additionally, educating yourself about local species can help you identify potential threats more easily and respond accordingly if needed.

Sea snakes are typically located in warm, tropical, and subtropical seas; however, their conduct can differ significantly depending on the species. Despite this, they are not known to be aggressive unless provoked.

It is important to understand why a snake might bite underwater before attempting any type of interaction with them.

Key Takeaway: 

Sea snakes are some of the most venomous aquatic species found in tropical waters around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They play an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, but it’s important to maintain a safe distance from them as they possess potent venoms that can cause severe health issues or even death if bitten.

Why Would a Snake Bite You Underwater?

Snakes may bite both above and below the surface, yet why they do so can differ.

Generally, snakes will bite when they feel threatened or mistake something for food. In shallow waters such as rivers and streams, it could be that a human unknowingly steps on or disturbs a snake beneath the water’s surface.

Mistaken Identity

A common reason for an underwater snake bite is mistaken identity.

Snakes primarily rely on their sense of smell to locate prey, so if your hand or foot resembles the scent of their preferred meal (such as small mammals), they might strike out in search of food. This is especially true for aquatic species like cottonmouths and northern water snakes that often hunt near the water’s edge.

Defensive Bites

In some cases, snakes will bite defensively when they feel cornered or threatened by humans entering their territory unannounced. For example, stepping into shallow water where a venomous cottonmouth resides could provoke an attack from this dangerously venomous snake.

To avoid being bitten in such situations, always exercise caution around bodies of water known to harbor potentially dangerous species like cottonmouths and copperhead snakes.

Tips to Prevent Underwater Snake Bites:

  • Maintain Awareness: Always keep an eye out for potential threats while swimming or wading through shallow waters – particularly those inhabited by venomous species like cottonmouths.
  • Avoid Disturbing Habitats: Be cautious not to disturb rocks, logs or other hiding spots where snakes may reside while in or near water.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: When wading through shallow waters, wear long pants and closed-toe shoes to minimize the risk of snake bites on your lower limbs.
  • Maintain a Safe Distance: If you encounter a snake in the water, give it plenty of space and avoid making sudden movements that could provoke an attack.

In conclusion, underwater snake bites can be attributed to mistaken identity or defensive reactions. By staying aware of your surroundings and taking precautions when entering bodies of water known for housing snakes, you can significantly reduce your chances of being bitten while enjoying outdoor activities like swimming or fishing.

Key Takeaway: 

Snakes can bite humans both on land and underwater, with mistaken identity or defensive reactions being the main reasons. To prevent underwater snake bites, maintain awareness of your surroundings while swimming or wading through shallow waters, avoid disturbing snake habitats, wear protective clothing, and maintain a safe distance from any snakes encountered in the water.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Snakes Can Bite You Underwater?

Copperheads, water moccasins, and sea snakes are all capable of biting you while you’re underwater. These snakes are proficient swimmers and can strike at their prey or defend themselves from potential threats while submerged. However, it’s important to note that snakes generally do not chase humans in the water. They usually prefer to avoid confrontation and will only attack if cornered or threatened.

What About Non-Venomous Water Snakes?

While non-venomous water snakes, such as common water snakes, can also bite you underwater, their bites are not as dangerous as those from venomous snakes. These snakes are good swimmers and often eat fish, but they pose little threat to humans.

Can Sea Snakes Bite Their Prey Underwater?

Sea snakes are unique species that have adapted to live and hunt underwater without drowning. They possess specialized glands that excrete excess salt, allowing them to swallow their prey whole without ingesting large amounts of seawater. However, sea snake venom is highly toxic and can be deadly to humans.

What Should You Do If You Encounter a Snake Underwater?

If you encounter a snake while swimming or diving, the best thing to do is to slowly and calmly move away from it. Do not try to touch or handle the snake, as this can provoke an attack. If you are bitten by a snake, seek medical attention immediately.

Remember, while snake bites are rare, they can be dangerous and even deadly.


While it is possible for snakes to bite underwater, the likelihood of encountering one and being bitten is relatively low. Water snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, are proficient swimmers and can stay underwater for extended periods of time. However, they typically only bite humans when threatened or provoked.

Sea snakes, on the other hand, are good swimmers but tend to be less aggressive towards humans. While their venom can be deadly, encounters with sea snakes are rare.

If you live in a rural area or work on a farm or ranch where encounters with snakes are more common, it’s important to take precautions such as wearing protective clothing and boots. Identifying the various types of snakes and understanding their habits can help to reduce the chances of being bitten.

It’s also important to note that snakes drown just like any other animal and cannot breathe underwater. So, while they may be able to swim and bite, they cannot stay underwater indefinitely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top Related Posts