Ecology and Control of an Introduced Population of Southern Watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata) in Southern California
Native to the southeastern United States, Southern Watersnakes (Nerodia fasciata) are known from two sites in California, but their ecological impacts are poorly understood. We investigated the ecology of Southern Watersnakes in Machado Lake, Harbor City, Los Angeles County, California, including an assessment of control opportunities. We captured 306 watersnakes as a result of aquatic trapping and hand captures. We captured snakes of all sizes (162–1063 mm snout–vent length [SVL], 3.5–873.3 g), demonstrating the existence of a well-established population. The smallest reproductive female was 490 mm SVL and females contained 12–46 postovulatory embryos (mean = 21). Small watersnakes largely consumed introduced Western Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), while larger snakes specialized on larval and metamorph American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus) and Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). Overall capture per unit effort (CPUE) in traps declined with time during an intensive 76-d trapping bout, but CPUE trends varied considerably among traplines and it is unlikely that the overall decline in CPUE represented a major decrease in the snake population size. Although we found no direct evidence that Southern Watersnakes are affecting native species in Machado Lake, this population may serve as a source for intentional or unintentional transportation of watersnakes to bodies of water containing imperiled native prey species or potential competitors.