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Posts Tagged ‘Nerodia sipedon’

When you are walking near the edge of the water, it is good to look down from time to time. Sharp-eyed Walter Sanford, a fellow dragonfly fanatic, spotted this Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) as we were searching for dragonflies in Fairfax County, Virginia last Monday. This is a non-poisonous snake, but I have read that it will bite and the wound may bleed a lot, because its saliva contains a mild anticoagulant.

Three years ago I had an encounter with a similar snake and watched it capture and devour a catfish. If you missed that posting, click on this link and check outSnake captures catfish—if you are like me, you will be fascinated and slightly horrified by the encounter and may avoid wading in the water at the edge of rivers for a time.

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From a distance I did not notice the large snake coiled up in the grass near the bank of the river—I spotted it only when I was a footstep or two away from stepping on it. My first thought was that it was probably a non-poisonous Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). After my encounter with an Eastern Copperhead snake last year, though, I have been a little more anxious to get a good look at any snake that I see, especially its head, in order to assess my relative risk—the copperhead has a large angular head and its eyes have a vertical pupil.

So my eyes began to trace the coils of the snake, trying to find its head. This image gives you a pretty good idea of the view that I had as I bent over slightly to look at the snake. In the photo, it is easy to be distracted by the beautiful colors and pattern of its scales and by the sinuous curves of its body. I was a bit relieved when my eyes finally found the round pupils of the eye of this snake which, believe it or not, is visible in this image. Can you find it?

In case you are curious, I took this photo this past Tuesday when I was exploring in the wilds of Fairfax County, Virginia, hunting for dragonflies with my friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford. Although our primary target was dragonflies, my eyes were always scanning surrounding areas for other interesting creatures. (If you still have not found the snake’s eye in the image, here is a clue—look near the extreme left in the photo towards the middle.)

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the hazards of exploring creeks and streams at this time of the year is that snakes may be sunning themselves at water’s edge. Last week I was startled when I suddenly realized that there was a snake right in front of me, precisely in the direction in which I had been moving.

I managed to get a shot of the sunning snake, which I believe to be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), just before it set off swimming down the creek. Although the first shot may make it look like I was really close to the snake, I was actually a good distance away—generally I prefer to use long telephoto lenses with snakes.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Semi-submerged in the duckweed in the shallow water, this snake patiently awaited an unseen prey yesterday at the pond at Ben Brenman Park, a small suburban park not far from where I live in Alexandria, Virginia. I did not get a really good look at the snake, which dove into the water shortly after I took this shot, but I think it might be a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon).

In many ways I was more interested in the sinuous curves of the snake’s body than in the identification of the snake’s species. There is an abstract beauty in the colors and the shapes in this image that appeals to me, though I know that some of my viewers are so creeped out by the main subject that they will find it hard to see any beauty whatsoever in the image.

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Anyone who has ever gone fishing has a story of “the one that got away.” This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) wanted to make sure that it did not have such a story to tell and dragged its prey onto dry land. Then the snake faced the challenge of figuring out how to swallow the large fish. The snake twisted and turned and contorted its body and head as it gradually ingested the fish. When the fish was part way down its throat, the snake appeared to push up against a log for additional leverage.

I captured a sequence of shots that speak for themselves, so I will not bother to explain each of them. Like me, you will probably feel a kind of macabre mixture of horror and fascination as you view them.

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

 

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

snake versus fish

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was exploring the edge of a small stream in Northern Virginia yesterday, I suddenly noticed a snake slowly swimming upstream. Its head seemed quite a bit lighter than its patterned body and I initially was confused by it. When I examined the photos afterwards, it appears the snake, which I think is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), was in the process of shedding its skin.

Northern Water Snakes are non-poisonous, but I never have a desire to get close to any snake that is in the water. From what I have read, I know that these snakes will bite you repeatedly if you try to pick them and their saliva contains an anti-coagulant that will make the wound bleed a lot.

At the time that the snake appeared, I was shooting with a 180mm macro lens, so any zooming that I was able to do was with my feet. At a certain point in time, the snake became aware of my presence and began to swim away more quickly. I was happy to be able to capture a shot as it was departing that shows more of the beautiful pattern on its body and some wonderful patterns in the water too.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I spent much of my time Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge scanning the trees for birds. On one of the rare moments when I was looking down, I ended up looking into the eyes of what appears to be a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon).

Although it may look like I was dangerously close to this snake, I took these shots with my Tamron 150-600mm lens, which has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (274 cm). Northern Watersnakes are not poisonous, but I have been told that their bites can be very painful and that the snakes inject an anti-coagulant when they bite, so wounds tend to bleed profusely.

I particularly like the way that I was able to capture some of the details of the snake, including its scales and its head. If you look closely, you can even see a miniature landscape in the eyes of the snake.

UPDATE: One of the viewers on my Facebook page commented that this looks more like an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) than a Northern Watersnake. I am hoping to get some clarification on the species of this snake and would welcome the views of any readers with expertise in this area.

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It may appear to be the Loch Ness monster, but I am pretty sure that it is “only” a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). I stumbled upon it yesterday while exploring Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Virginia just after it had caught a pretty good-sized catfish. It took a while to subdue the fish, but the snake eventually was able to swallow it.

I have seen snakes like this catch small fish before, but I was shocked to see the size of its catch this time. How does a snake subdue and immobilize a fish that big? Northern Water Snakes are not poisonous, though I have been told that their bite can be quite painful and that the snake injects an anti-coagulant into your system, so that you will bleed a lot. The snake swam around with the fish for quite some time, periodically rearing its head and part of its body out of the water. The snake’s mouth seemed to have a literal death grip on the fish.

I watched the action with a mixture of horror and fascination, frozen in place to avoid spooking the snake. The snake seemed to be adjusting the position of the fish, as I had seen herons do, and I wondered how it could possibly swallow the fish. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the water, the snake’s body started to writhe, and the fish simply disappeared, except for a small piece of the tail still sticking out of the fish’s mouth.

I still don’t know exactly how the snake ingested the fish—one minute it was then and then in a blink of an eye it wasn’t. It seemed like some kind of magical legerdemain (which is probably the wrong term for a limbless creature), though I suspect that the snake has powerful muscles that enabled it to pull in the fish all at once.

There are signs in Riverbend Park warning folks not to swim in the Potomac River, probably because of the current. I think that I have found another reason to stay out of the water.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) sensed my presence at the edge of a pond this weekend at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, it began to swim right at me. As the snake grew larger and larger in my viewfinder, I assumed it would veer off. I was wrong. The snake actually came out of the water and I captured this first shot of the triumphant snake who forced me to back away.

Northern Watersnake

Initially the snake was swimming lazily in the shallow water of the pond, seemingly basking in the warm of the midday sun.

Northern Watersnake

Suddenly the snake turned its head and looked straight at me. It did not look amused.

Northern Watersnake

The snake started to flick its forked tongue and began to swim rapidly through the vegetation that separated us.

Northern Watersnake

A part of my brain certainly understood that the snake was not as close as it looked in my telephoto zoom lens, but a more instinctive, primordial part of the brain kicked in when the snake started to fill the viewfinder. I know that this kind of snake is not poisonous and that I had nothing to fear, those rational thoughts were crowded out by the emotional responses that screamed at me that I needed to back away.

I honestly did not expect the snake to come out of the water and it happened so fast that I am not sure how it did it. The snake seemed to propel itself out of the water in a jump. Once it was on terra firma, the snake assumed the confrontational pose that you see in the first photo.

This round goes to the snake.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m not sure what I can say about the soul of this Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), but I recently had a chance to take a long, close look into one of its eyes.

As I was walking in my local marshland park last week, one of my fellow photographers pointed out the snake to me in the low vegetation. Most of the time that I see this species, it is in the water, where it is almost impossible for me to get a close-up shot. The snake started to move several times as I got closer and closer to it, but then it would stop, thinking perhaps that it would be invisible if it remained motionless.

Most of the time, my view to the snake was obscured by the vegetation, so I waited and tried to anticipate where it would move next, hoping that it would move to a more open area. Finally, I was able to get a relatively clear shot of its eye in a head-and-shoulders portrait, though, of course, snakes don’t really have shoulders.

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve repeatedly seen a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) sunning itself on a log at my local marsh. I don’t know whether it was hunger or boredom that prompted it to move, but I was utterly fascinated this past weekend as I watched the snake make preparations to dive into the water.

The snake initially sensed the conditions by sticking out its tongue and then gradually slid its head into the water. After testing the water with its head, it slowly slithered into the muddy waters of the marsh, probably in search of fish or frogs.

Northern Watersnake

I’ve never before used the slideshow feature on my blog, but decided to try it out here to show a sequence of shots of the snake diving into the water. (I think the slide show starts automatically. If not, click on one of the photos and it should start.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The alternative to the slide show is to do the gallery look, in which you click through the images at your own pace (and the images show up a lot bigger). Here’s the same images in that format. You start by clicking on any one of the images. Do you prefer this look?

Just for fun, here’s a blown-up view of the image in which the snake is sticking out its tongue. Click on the image (if you dare) to see a higher resolution view of the snake.

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes a coiled snake is prepared to strike, but this Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) was definitely not ready for action. The snake seemed total relaxed as it basked in the sun, curled up above the surface of the water on some dried up vegetation.

I really like the texture of the snake’s skin, but there was no way that I was going to reach out and touch it. Telephoto lenses are a good thing in situations like this.

snake_coil_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Spring has definitely arrived, bringing with it an abundance of snakes in addition to the profusion of flowering plants.  Most of the snakes have been all curled up, basking in the sun.  This Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), however, was slithering through the water and stuck out its tongue and hissed at me before disappearing below the surface of the water.

I really like the way the colors of the snake’s skin match those of its surroundings and even the reddish color of the forked tongue is repeated in the fallen blossom.

snake1_water_tongue_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Deep in the cattails, this Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon) seemed to have taken refuge from the rising waters of the marsh after several days of heavy rainfall. The snake’s body looked a little thicker around the middle, causing me to wonder if it had eaten recently and was in the kind of food coma that I experience after a really big meal.

snake_bush_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the shallow water of the marsh, this Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon) patiently waits for its unwary prey, probably a frog. At one point its body began to vibrate violently and I thought it was getting ready to strike, but it turned out to be a false alarm. In the end, the snake turned out to be more patient than I was and I left without observing the snake capture its next meal.

snake_water_blog

Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view of the snake.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Do Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) blow bubbles in the water for fun, like I used to do as a child? Does it help them to attract prey? Are the bubbles simply a result of the snake remaining semi-submerged in the shallow marsh water as it waits for its next victim?

Whatever the reason for the bubbles, I spent some time yesterday observing this snake, hoping that I might see a successful hunt. In the end, I came up empy-handed, as the snake’s patience outlasted mine.

water_snake_bubbles_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at my local marshland park, I heard some splashing in the shallow, muddy water and was surprised to see a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) emerging from the water with a fish in its mouth. I did not see the snake actually catch the fish, but by the time I caught sight of it, the snake already had a firm grip on the head of the fish. I suspect that the snake had moved onto dry land to make certain that the fish had no chance of escaping.

Fascinated and a little horrified, I watched as the snake opened its mouth wider, worked the obviously strong muscles of its throat, and gradually swallowed the small fish. In the series of photos below, you can see how the snake’s head and throat grew larger as more and more of the fish was drawn in.

After the snake finished its meal, it returned to the water and joined two other snakes searching for prey.  At times it looked like they might be working together to push the fish into the shallow water. That may have been my imagination, though, as I noted that the successful snake made no attempt to share his catch with the others.

snake_fish1_blogsnake_fish2_blogsnake_fish3_blogsnake_fish4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Soaring summer temperatures have caused the water level in some areas of my marshland park to drop and Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) can now be seen trolling these shallow waters for prey. Yesterday, in one small area I saw three of these snakes and managed to get shots of two them.

Sometimes the snakes will sit on brush and logs just above the level of the water, as in the first photo, while in other cases they submerge their bodies in the water, with their heads sticking out of the water, as in the second photo.

I like the way that the first image shows the details of the snake’s scales and like how the second photo highlights the marking on the snake’s body (and realize that some folks may find both images to be creepy).

snake2_blogstriped_snake_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I haven’t seen a frog in a couple of weeks, but the turtles and snakes still make an appearance when the sun is high overhead, seeking somehow to warm themselves in the rays of the sun.

The first shot is a red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans), a type that I have featured before in blog posts. I find them to be amazingly photogenic. In this shot, I particularly love the reflection that he is casting. The blue of the water is a little unusual and reminds me a little of some of Monet’s paintings in which he used a similar blue.

Sunning turtle in the fall

The second image is a head shot of a Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon). He was stretched out in a grassy portion of the marsh, probably trying to expose the maximum amount of his body to the sun. I got down pretty low to get the shot and, as you can see, the grass made it difficult to get an unobstructed shot.

Sunning snake in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Throughout this dry summer, the water level in the marsh area of Huntley Meadows Park has continued to drop. I was shocked to see how low the levels were today. In an area where the water had previously been deep enough to support large snapping turtles (an open area outside of a beaver lodge), I now saw snakes, at least four or five of them. They were swimming in the shallow water and even burrowing into the soft mud in search of food. I am pretty sure they were all Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon), a fairly large, non-venomous snake.

Face-to-face with a Northern Water snake

As I was watching the snakes, a couple came by and they said that they sometimes like to pick up these kind of snakes, examine them, and then release them. In passing, they mentioned that the snakes will bite hard and will release musk when handled. I don’t know why they thought I wanted to play with the snakes (trust me, I had no such desire), but they warned me not to be surprised if the bite wound bled a lot. According to the Wikipedia article on Northern Water snakes, the snake’s saliva contains a mild anticoagulant.

Northern Water snake, full-body shot

I did not see the snakes catch any prey, but the Wikipedia article states that during the day they hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, birds, and small mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

Northern Water snake focusing on a potential prey

One other interesting fact about the Northern Water snake is that—unlike many other snakes—they do not lay eggs. According to one academic article, the mother carries the eggs inside her body for three to five months and, on average, gives birth to 26 babies, each about 7-9 inches long. Once they are born, the babies are on their own; the mother does not care for them at all.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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