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What To Do If You See a Snake While Swimming?

When snakes come to mind, we may think of them as confined to life on land, but this could not be further from reality. 

Snakes are avid swimmers, and there is a chance you could come across one in the wild or your own backyard if there is a waterway to be found. 

However, seeing a snake in the water is usually not a cause for alarm for you or the snake. 

There is rarely any need for action to be taken in this situation, but there are things you can do to keep yourself and the snake out of harm’s way during an aquatic encounter.

To learn more about why you should not feel threatened by seeing a snake while swimming and what you can do to help protect yourself as well as the animal, continue to read.

If You See a Snake While Swimming, Do Not Panic!

If a snake is in the water with you, you may be startled, but try to remain calm. The snake is likely much more afraid of you than you are of it. 

Snakes Do Not Want Anything to Do with People

As a general rule, snakes tend to avoid humans, which means that they will rarely show aggression towards people swimming in the same area as they are.

A snake will be much more interested in hunting fish, toads, and other aquatic animals than attacking a person.

You are free to leave the water if you are frightened, but do not attempt to remove the snake, especially if the encounter occurs in the reptile’s natural environment.

Usually, The Snake Means to Be There

If a snake is found in a natural waterway, it more than likely wants to be there and is not in danger of drowning if it has access to a shoreline and is not trapped by unclimbable or steep walls.

The best thing to do if you see any kind of snake in the water is to leave it alone, as a snake that is being messed with will be more likely to bite if provoked to do so. 

Most aquatic snakes in North America are non-venomous, but some can easily be misidentified for the dangerous cottonmouth or water moccasin due to their similar scale coloration. 

In fact, it is not out of the ordinary to sometimes see terrestrial venomous snakes swimming, so it is always better to be safe than sorry.

If You Must Remove the Snake, Call a Professional 

If the snake is in a swimming pool, a well, or somewhere else it shouldn’t be, there are ways to safely remove it.

Get in contact with a snake specialist, a park ranger, or a wildlife protection organization so that they may relocate the animal. 

This is an especially necessary precaution to take if you are unsure of the snake’s species or whether it may be venomous.  

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Those that have worked with snakes in the past and are trained to work with venomous reptiles will have tools like snake hooks and bite-proof bags to capture and release the snake without harming it in the process.

Can A Snake Bite While Underwater?

While it may seem far-fetched, the answer is yes. Snakes absolutely can and do open their mouths and take bites even when fully submerged in water. 

This is why it is necessary to exercise a healthy amount of caution while swimming in any water body known to have occasional snake sightings.

Snakes Won’t Drown If Their Mouths Are Open

Since snakes occasionally hunt in the water, their jaws are equipped to bite under the surface so that they can latch onto prey to consume it.

Snakes and other reptiles can hold their breaths for several minutes longer than humans, and they can also open and close their jaws without aspirating water.

This does not mean that a snake will suddenly attack a random person it sees in the water, but it will defend itself and turn aggressive if it feels threatened.

How to Help Keep Yourself Safe from Snakebites

To lessen the chances of being bitten by a snake while in the water, make sure you are only swimming in places where the water has high visibility all the way to the bottom.

Avoid stepping on any object that you do not recognize when you are in any body of water, even swimming pools. 

Above all, it is a very bad idea to try handling a wild snake that you come across, no matter how confident you may feel. 

It is always best to leave snake wrangling to professionals that have experience working with these reptiles, especially if you cannot be certain of the animal’s identity.

What To Do if You Get Bitten by a Snake Underwater

If you are bitten by a snake while swimming, it will probably be a very alarming situation for you, but you need to keep calm. 

A faster heart rate will only make things worse if the snake happens to be venomous, as this will only help to pump the toxin throughout your system quicker.

Take Note of the Snake’s Appearance

Take a mental note of what the snake looked like. While this is not always the case, a venomous snake from North America often has a triangular head. 

This goes for all rattlesnakes and cottonmouth species, which are the more common venomous snakes that people will encounter in the water. 

However, coral snakes will have a more rounded head, and it can be trickier to identify them due to their similar appearance to scarlet kingsnakes. 

Seek Medical Attention As Soon As Possible

If you cannot be certain that the snake was non-venomous or begin to feel sick or strange in any way, you should get ready to get to an emergency room or call an ambulance to transport you there.

If the snake turns out to be dangerous, a hospital will be able to administer the appropriate antivenin with the help of your description of the reptile. 

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However, if you didn’t get a good look at the animal, this isn’t too much cause for concern. 

Doctors will be able to observe your specific symptoms to get an understanding of the type of snake that bit you. 

Reasons Why a Snake Might Be Swimming

If you are swimming and you happen to spot a snake in the water with you, it is important to remember that the snake is usually not interested in you. 

The Snake May Be Hunting

As we have noted previously, certain species of snakes might occasionally add aquatic animals to their diet if they do not already subsist on them. 

More aquatic species will often be seen hunting near the shoreline of ponds and lakes or riverbanks. 

Sometimes, these snakes will have to swim below the water’s surface to get to their prey, such as fish, waterfowl, frogs, turtles, or other reptiles. 

The Snake May Be Escaping a Predator

A snake that has taken to the water might be trying to get away from something that spooked it.

If this is the case, it will be especially important to give the snake some space, as you never know if it may suddenly turn defensive.

Which Snakes Like to Swim? 

Contrary to popular belief, all snakes can move through the water. Some species are just better at it than others.

Non-Venomous Species That Swim

The aptly named water snakes are often found swimming about in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. 

These Nerodia water snakes make up part of the non-venomous colubrid family and are all native to North America.

Venomous Species That Swim

Rattlesnakes and cottonmouths have been frequently sighted swimming in bayous, rivers, and lakes, although cottonmouths are much more commonly seen living in these habitats.

Almost all species of sea snake are venomous, excluding the family Emydocephalus. 

These reptiles are especially adapted to life in the sea and are equipped with paddle-shaped tails that aid them in maneuvering through the water.

Sea snakes have some of the deadliest venoms known to exist, but they are also reportedly docile creatures that rarely bite unless provoked.


As we have gone over, all snakes have the natural ability and inclination to swim if they need to, although some are suited to it better. 

Snakes may spend time near shorelines or in shallow waters, whether they are locating prey, evading larger animals, moving to new locations, or simply trying to cool themselves.

This means that encounters with humans in natural settings such as lakes and rivers or man-made environments such as pools and canals are bound to happen. 

If you see a snake swimming near you, the best thing you can do is leave it alone, as snakes can bite even while under the surface of the water. 

Getting medical help should always be the next course of action if a bite happens.