Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring Fever

At the farm where I volunteer for a therapy riding program, the pond surrounded by riding trails has come alive with the warm weather. I first noticed these snakes last week and brought my camera with me to photograph them this morning. I figured they would be in the same place on the bank of the pond and, sure enough, there they were basking in the warmth of the sun. Just as before, the smaller snake was draped across the coils of the much larger one. After I had snapped a few photos, they had had enough of my intrusion. They quickly turned and slipped off into the pond.

It wasn't until they were swimming away that I noticed a medium sized snake hiding in the plants nearby. As I pulled back a leaf to get in closer, the snake actually came closer toward me. It seemed curious about something that was in the grass near my feet. Within minutes, it had turned toward the water. I followed it as it swam along the edge of the pond and saw that it met up with the other two snakes. They entwined their bodies for a moment as they swam together, then headed toward another warm spot along the bank.
Last week I wasn't quite sure what these snakes were and they appeared much blacker than they did today. These are, in fact, Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon). I had seen this species before in a stream in Connecticut, but those snakes had been a much lighter brown color. I was surprised to learn the many color variants of this snake. I think the red colored bands contrasting against the dark upper scales is especially beautiful. The Northern Water snake can grow to be 40+ inches in length, but generally are in the 22-40 inch range. They are nonvenomous, but are sometimes mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth or water moccassin. Northern water snakes primarily feed on small creatures found in or near the water such as fish, frogs, toads, and salamanders.

I suspect that the snakes I found are in the throes of courtship and mating. Females are live bearers and will give birth in August or September to 20-40 babies. I'll be keeping my eye out for this little group in the future.

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