Species Spotlight: Northern Watersnake
Northern Watersnake, Nerodia sipedon
I always consider it my lucky day when I discover or stumble upon a reptile, particularly a snake. This afternoon, the sun was sending warm rays through the cool, partly cloudy. I left the stresses and confines of my office at lunch break for a short stroll up to the pond. But not even 50 feet out the back door of my office, I spied an odd looking “stick” laying across the access road.
Sure enough, it was my lucky day! This “stick” was about two-and-a-half feet long of rich copper color and bands of burgundy. Examining from a distance, I thought I had stumbled upon a Copperhead, a species of venomous snake found here in Georgia. But making a calmer, closer inspection down the length of the body, I could see the bands breaking up toward the back half of the body indicating one thing: Nerodia sipedon, Northern Watersnake.
There are several species of Nerodia found in Georgia. They typically inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats such as ponds, lakes, marshes, rivers and streams and primarily feed on amphibians and fish. They are often seen basking on banks of rivers or ponds or craftily hang out on branches overhanging the water.
Noticing that his initial relaxed position was now tensing into slight curves along his body, I knew he too had seen me. I raised my camera to get a few shots from a distance should he quickly shoot off either side of the road into the edge of the woods or into the pond. But instead of darting off, there he lay, subtle as can be, not moving an inch, perhaps repeating in his not-wanting-to-be-noticed reptilian mind, “I’m a stick. I’m a stick. I’m just a stick.”
Desiring a different pose, I approached him and gently tapped his tail with my foot. Instantly he assumed the dreadful defensive position and feisty, aggressive attitude by which most watersnakes are known. After a few calculated and precise strikes at my boot and leg, he decided retreat was in order and quickly shot his way down the bank, winding toward the pond where, diving into the water, he disappeared into the watery vegetation on the edge of the pond. Truly, it was my lucky day.
Photo credits: William Wise.
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