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gailcalled's avatar

If you are a herpetologist, can you please help me identify these snakes living in my sister's pond?

Asked by gailcalled (53594 points ) July 6th, 2014

We have some photos which I can PM you. They resemble northern brown or water snakes but do not seem to have the mottling. They are several feet long and as thick around as a woman’s wrist. This is an area with cold winters in the central part of New York state. We have small children who want to swim in the pond, but we need to ID the snakes first. Apparently not poisonous, they do seem agressive.

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29 Answers

cazzie's avatar

I know of a good herpetologist who loves her work. I can send the picks on to a fellow professor if you like.

gailcalled's avatar

See PM. Thank you.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Jesus. Thick as a woman’s wrist. I didn’t think ya’ll had anything like that north of the Mason Dixon. Not in the water, anyway. Sure they’re not some kinda slimy Yankee eel?

gailcalled's avatar

Here they are. So I no longer need to PM any of you snake smartie pants.

@Espiritus_Corvus: Do eels lie about in the warm sun and bask on decks? (And eat frogs?)

GloPro's avatar

Unfortunately I’m going with water moccasins.

Big, thick bodies and a triangular shaped head are two identifiers. It’s hard to see the head in your pic, but the thick body is unusual in common water snakes. Do they have more pale under bodies or are they completely black?

More pics of American Cottonmouth

GloPro's avatar

Oh, wait! Could be good news!

Northern Water Snake. There is a solid black one towards the bottom, very similar. And Cottonmouths have never been documented that far north. Bad news is they do bite and are aggressive, apparently.

I’d have someone catch one and identify it just to be sure, no matter what we snake geeks think.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

@gailcalled yikes! What is your sister going to do about this? Is she planning to have them removed or will she let them be?

Coloma's avatar

Could they be Northern Black Racers or Black Rat snakes?
My link didn’t work but an article says that the Black rat snake is the largest snake in N.Y. absent form the Adirondacks and likes rocky areas, cliffs/slopes.
They ambush prey, birds, etc. They are probably waiting for frogs, birds and other small prey near the pond. They are non-venomous and overpower their prey by constriction.

syz's avatar

I too am voting northern water snake, but I’m not an expert.

GloPro's avatar

Black Racers and Rat Snakes are not typically aquatic by nature.

gailcalled's avatar

Thanks, everyone.

Coloma's avatar

@gailcalled No proper ID yet though? I’m dying to know now.

gailcalled's avatar

My sister reports that the snake is agressive; when she tried jumping up and down on the dock to scare him back in the water, it headed towards her. She took off, running. When there is further news, I’ll report back.. She is going to try to find someone who will come and ID the snake in the flesh. She also has a man tomorrow to cut all the cattails down that are on either side of the dock, to give the snakes less shelter to hide in in the shallows.

GloPro's avatar

If it’s a Northern Water Snake, it may have live babies very soon. Birthing season is around the corner.

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syz's avatar

Apparently, water snakes are nasty buggers: ” Here is the culprit behind the myth of the “cottonmouth that swam to the boat and tried to attack us.” Like all snakes in the Nerodia family, the Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) is very aggressive and also very territorial. This one will defend its hunting grounds vigorously and with markings similar to a cottonmouth’s, he can easily be confused for one.” Source

GloPro's avatar

Also from @Syz’s link: If you see a snake swimming toward you or your boat, try to notice if he’s on top of the water or not. A moccasin will float completely out of the water and the non-venomous water snakes swim with the most of their bodies submerged.

I mentioned birthing season for the purposes of considering relocation of the snake sooner rather than later, if that is the choice being made. I’m opposed to getting in the position of having to kill any snake, as they are nice for controlling vermin populations.

gailcalled's avatar

That’s all my sister needs. A pregnant snake and lots of babies plus three rambunctious and shrieking little boys. Well, I will continue to pass on this information. Thanks, I guess.

gailcalled's avatar

Update:

Everyone guesses, assumes, or thinks they are northern water snakes, including the people from the local Land Conservancy. No one wants to come out and eye-ball them. They have become the most photographed snakes in our county, however.

So, today, the landscape man is there, cutting down all the cattails near the swimming dock to remove places to nest, rest and hide. He is also hauling very large rocks for the shallow areas at the opposite end of the pond, hoping to lure the snakes to a better and more up-scale resort for lounging.

Coloma's avatar

@gailcalled Well you know, waterfront properties are highly desirable.

cazzie's avatar

Could they be: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/Nongame/snakes/profile_black_racer.htm? If they are black racers, that is good news because they are a rare and threatened species. They are often confused for Northern Water Snakes.

GloPro's avatar

@cazzie Black racers are not aquatic, and are typically not as “thick as a woman’s wrist.” I’ve tried to catch one in the forest before, and they move quick!

gailcalled's avatar

Update of update; The guys who mow my lawn were just here. When I was paying them, one asked if I had been bothered by snakes this summer. Whoa. They mow a large property with a pond in the next hamlet and have been bothered by snakes when they weed-whack around the pond. Water snakes, very aggressive, non-venomous but with something in their saliva that many people are allergic to and can beel very ill from.

So, we now are sure we have solved the ID problem. The next issue is whether they and my sister’s family can co-exist peacefully. Will they stay on their side of the pond with the new clean rocks and lovely tree trunks and cat tails, or will they stray to the swimming area?

@Cazzie, Your link led me to this excellent and useful one, with wonderul photos, from The New Hampshire Fish and Game commission about the Northern water snake, which clinches the ID. Thank you.

GloPro's avatar

I hope it’s a big pond. And the other question… Will the boys stick to the swimming area?

Is there any possibility of relocating some of them? You haven’t indicated how many your sister has seen, but in thinking of breeding it could easily be a population explosion.

I’ve read that the saliva is agitating, also, and that these snakes strike multiple times, which is rare for snakes. It isn’t the snakes that would worry me, per say, but the aggressive nature of them and the number of them.

gailcalled's avatar

@GloPro: The pond is not huge; the boys will stay where they are told, but they are little and shrieky and splashy. My sister’s anxiety is off-the-charts and rightly so it seems, but I will pass on th recurrient biting behavior when she seems calmer.

The problem with relocating them is that this is an area with large numbers of ponds and wet lands and with the increase in the water snake population, they may easily travel from pond to pond, if there is a nice empty condo or apartment complex waiting.

I have a small pond at the end of my driveway, but it is for decoration and fishing only (including that consummate fisherman, the blue heron). Nothing would induce me to swim there. I bet that with the large, flat rokcs and cattails around it there are already snakes in residence.

GloPro's avatar

Maybe it would be wise to sit in a boat in the pond for a few episodes before jumping right in. I’ve heard they will even swim at boats.

gailcalled's avatar

I will pass that suggestion on also, even though it will mean buying a little canoe or row boat, but is a good idea. So much for the idyllic life in Arcadia (not to mention the ticks).

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