Young Northern Water Snake

We spotted this shy Northern Water Snake as he was swimming near the kayak put-in. He startled me, for sure. We don’t see many snakes swimming in the lake. In fact, in four years on the lake, this is only the third one we’ve seen. He swam very fluidly. Clearly the little guy is comfortable in water. He was only about two feet long and, at his thickest, he was about one and one-half inches in diameter. These snakes grow to about four feet, so this was probably a young one. You can also tell that because he is more distinctly patterned than an adult would be.

The Northern Water Snake is harmless. The worst they will do is release a foul-smelling anal secretion if you handle them. They are nervous snakes and if handled they will try to bite, but they don’t have any venom. Sometimes these snakes are misindentified as “water moccasins.” We don’t have water moccasins in Michigan. Maybe on account of that misidentification, or possibly just because lots of humans fear snakes enough to want to kill them, Northern Water Snakes have been wiped out in some areas of Michigan. Long Lake is fortunate to have some left.

In the lower peninsula, the only snake with a poisonous venom is the very very shy Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. They aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as their southern and western cousins. Pretty much Michigan’s rattlesnake only bites silly people who are trying to handle them. A bite means a trip to the hospital rather than a trip to the morgue (except for the extremely fragile). Michigan’s upper peninsula has absolutely no snakes that harm humans. 

So, another good reason to live in Michigan: only one of our snakes can be harassed into trying to kill you. And they aren’t very good at it.

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