Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ophidiophobes Beware!

I have said before that it pays to follow whims and hunches.  Yesterday I was at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates for students in a summer program. I collected my buckets of pondwater and returned back to my truck.  After changing out of my rubber boots and back into shoes, I decided to take a quick walk down to the canoe landing before I left.  There was no real good reason for this.  I knew what I could expect to find as far as flora and fauna goes.  I did not even take my camera with me.

Repeat after me.  The First Rule of Photography is "YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGH...." 
Wait!  That's the first rule of something entirely different, but I'm not allowed to talk about it.

The First Rule of Photography is "TAKE YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU."

The Second Rule of Photography is "TAKE YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU."

Of course, because I did not have my camera, there was something interesting down by the water's edge.  A quick walk back up to the truck - not a sprint, it freaks out the normal people.

So what caused my excitement?

An adult Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) was basking on the concrete rip-rap at the end of the canoe landing.  Up to this point I had seen four different species of snakes in the parks in Mount Pleasant.  Lots of Eastern Garter Snakes and Northern Ribbon Snakes, a few Brown Snakes and one fleeting encounter with an Eastern Milk Snake in which I threw a tractor into park and leaped off in a fruitless pursuit.

But, until yesterday, I had not seen a Northern Water Snake in Mt. Pleasant.  Fortunately for me, the snake was busy sunning itself and waited for me to retrieve my camera.  I was able to get several photographs in which the snake did nothing more than regard me coolly.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

 Close-up of Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

When I tried walking around the snake for a different view, it decided that it had had enough and decided to take to the water.

The snake swam swiftly downstream for about a dozen yards before returning to the shallows. In the water it stretched out to its full length of about three feet.  Northern Water Snakes can grow to a length of 2 to 4 feet, so this one was average in size.  It hunts in and around water for a variety of small prey animals including fish, frogs, birds, small mammals, and large insects.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) swimming

Once in the water the pattern of light and dark bands/splotches on the snake became much more visible.  This color pattern and its aquatic habitat cause many people to confuse the Northern Water Snake with the venomous Water Moccasin.  There are NO (as in zero) Water Moccasins in Michigan.  The species comes no closer to Michigan than the lower Ohio River Valley. 

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) swimming in shallows

This snake let me follow it around for several minutes and even show it to a family that walked down to the canoe landing.  One of the kids asked if it would bite - the short answer is always yes.  Any wild animal that is capable of biting will bite if it feels threatened.  The Northern Water Snake is sometime known to bite aggressively when handled.  I left this one alone.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) close-up

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