It’s Creepy Crawly Time!

I realize that snakes are not wildlife favorites of many people, but they do play an important part in our ecosystems. Many snakes help control rodents and pests, while some help to control insects. This post deals with the water snakes. Typical prey of the water snakes include frogs, fish, and sometimes juvenile turtles and small mammals. No matter how “disliked”, they play an important on keeping nature in balance.

In the areas where I kayak, I sometimes run across water snakes. Fortunately, we are located north of the boundary where the venomous Cottonmouth lives. In our area, we have 2 types of water snakes: the Diamondback Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifera rhombifera) and the Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). The Diamondback is Missouri’s largest water snake and is named for the light areas along the snake’s back which may be shaped like diamonds. These snakes bite viciously to defend themselves, but will usually try to flee, if given the chance. The Northern Water Snake, locally known as the Banded Water Snake, is Missouri’s most common water snake.

This past week, I have been kayaking in one of my local state Conservation areas, for the first time this year. This is a very unique place that I just found out about last summer. This location is about 11 miles from my house and is located on a secluded country road.  It is 67 acres in size and contains a pond, with several islands located within the pond, and some marshy areas. When I first found out about it, I learned that this is a man-built area that was built as a private duck hunting club a long time ago. In 1985, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) acquired the area and hunting is no longer allowed. The MDC manages it to preserve the wetland habitat. The area surrounding the pond is a diked area, but is not passable anymore due to inactivity, allowing trees and shrubs to grow a heavy barrier all the way around the pond. On my many trips there, with my kayak, I have only seen one car of people there … a couple of birders looking for warblers. So essentially this area is my private photo lab!

During my kayak trips there last year, I always saw water snakes, but never very many. On my visit the other day, however, I observed many water snakes at this location. In the ~4 hours I was there, I must have seen 15-20 different water snakes, mostly the Diamondback, but a couple of Northern Water snakes.

Here is a photo of one of the Northern Water Snakes that I got from the kayak. Note the unbroken, dark bands that run across the snake’s body, behind the head:



The Diamondback Water Snake, on the other hand, does not have bands that completely surround the back. The Diamond back has a “broken up” pattern that sometimes resembles a “diamond”:



But I did get quite a surprise the other day. I rounded one of the islands and saw a group of Diamondback Water Snakes mating. I’m not sure exactly how many were in this group, but I did see at least 4, possibly more. Here are a couple of images taken of this activity:

 


Now I know why activity in the pond was so high! I was there at the peak of the water snakes’ mating! I’ve been back to this location a couple of times since this observation and the snake activity has resumed the more normal, laid-back activity I would normally see. Sometimes I’m asked how I can kayak in the area with so many snakes. My answer is simply that these snakes are like most wildlife; if they can avoid human encounters, they will do so. If forced into a defensive mode, they will bite (and hard!) but their normal behavior is flight. Even so, I never seem to doze off while lazily waiting in the kayak for some wildlife activity, even though I may have not gotten much sleep the night before!


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