Thursday, August 18, 2011

Northern Water Snakes

Often I wake at 4:00 am and lie in bed for awhile thinking about the day ahead, perhaps a work project or a blog post or lately all the peaches to be harvested and eaten or canned. Usually I fall back to sleep for another 30 minutes or so before finally rising for good at 5:00 am. My internal clock is hardwired for these times, probably from the many early bird surveys that required early wake-ups.

During the 30 minutes of extra sleep I often have weird dreams or at least the weird ones that I can remember. This morning I woke at 4:00, Kodi at my feet, cool air wafting in the window. I immediately started thinking about water snakes and my blog. Water snakes were just in my dreams. Kodi and I were at some sort of nature center. He was off-leash and running down to the driveway. There, a naturalist was using two sticks to pick up two HUGE, water snakes. They puffed up and hissed and nearly struck at Kodi who was sitting nearby curious of course.

I've been seeing a lot of water snakes this summer. And I was fretting that I hadn't had time for a blog post for 7 days. So, I put the two thoughts together and here is a little bit about northern water snakes.

First, water snakes are big -- 2 to 4 feet -- but they are not huge (that was just in my dream). They are thick-bodied and as with many animals they only harm if they are disturbed. Otherwise they slip quietly away into the water. The water snake is non-venomous; not to be confused with the venomous water moccasin which lives in the southeastern U.S., and is not in New England.

At one of our favorite local haunts where we take Kodi there is a rock-covered causeway that crosses a large wetland. Shrubs and other plants grow among the bigger rocks at the edge of the causeway where it slopes down to the water. When I walk along the causeway I always see at least one water snake, sometimes three, curled in the weeds, basking in the sun and waiting for an unwary frog or salamander or small fish to linger too close.

Dogs, people, bicycles pass by and the snakes barely move unless you get a little too close, but mostly they just hang out. So, clearly these are not aggressive snakes. If handled they will act aggressively and will bite, but that seems like a reasonable response.

Here are photos of the three water snakes that I saw on one such walk across the causeway.

The water snake is blackish with splotches of red that darken as the snake ages. The scales are keeled (not smooth as in a black racer). This is one of our most common snakes. If you are near water look about for a basking snake and it is surely a northern water snake. Any time now (from August to September) the females will give birth to 20 to 40 live young. No wonder they seem to be doing well.

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