Common Brown Water Snake


Family: Colubridae.

Scientific name: Lycodonomorphus rufulus (Lichtenstein, 1823).

Other name: Common water snake, brown water snake.

Size: 45-60cm, but can grow as long as 85cm.

Diet: mainly frogs, tadpoles and small fish but may eat nestlings and small rodents.

Description: The snake is relatively small with smooth scales and elliptical pupils. It is dark brown to olive or light brown on top and its belly is pale to yellow-pink.

Number of young: oviparous, 6-23 eggs in midsummer.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Distribution: Endemic to Southern Africa and found more commonly in the temperate regions of the country. The snake is common throughout the well-watered eastern and southern reaches of South Africa but is largely absent from the dry, Northern Cape.

Habitat: Found in close proximity to water bodies such as vleis, streams, rivers and dams but can also be found under rocks, logs and other debris.


Additional information:

The common brown water snake is the most common water snake in Southern Africa and although non-venomous and shy, the snake is seen as dangerous in the Zulu culture (Marais 2004, Branch 2001)

As the name suggests, the common brown water snake is a terrific swimmer which is most active at night where it patrols the water bank either in or out the water in search of unsuspecting frogs (Marais 2004). Once found the snake raps itself around its prey and constricts it until it is lifeless and this has been known to happen underwater. Unlike the dusky bellied water snake which devours its prey under water, the common brown water snake tends to bring its prey to the water-side before it is consumed (Alexander & Marais 2007, Marais 2004).

Although fast in the water, the snake still runs the risk of predation at the claws of the monitors, the talons of the predatory birds and the pedipalps of the hunting spiders (P.s pedipalps are sensory organs in spiders). Females of this species also tend to be longer than the males and although diagnostic to the trained eye, common brown water snakes are mixed up with a variety of other harmless snakes such as the brown house snake (Marais 2004).



Alexander, G. & Marais, J. 2007. A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

Branch, B. 2001. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

Bates, M.F., Branch, W.R., Bauer, A.M., Burger, M., Marais, J., Alexander, G.J. & de Villiers, M.S. (eds). 2014. (CD set). Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.


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