If we’re keeping score, it’s the Northern Water Snake: 10, me: 0.
I would say we were evenly matched when we began battle over the pond habitat. (See “Where Have All My Frogs Gone? ) He had no fear of me and I had no fear of him. I only wanted to relocated him to a nearby snake Shangri-La but he knows very well that this little pond is nirvana, not for the fish and frogs, mind you, but for this chubby snake that grows wiser by the day.
I allowed the pond to evaporate about a foot. This exposed the fieldstones arranged at water’s edge, his favorite hideaway. He could not slither in and out of the water without being discovered. I was sure I could hide the minnow net beneath the surface of the water and swoop him up when he picked his favorite escape into the depths of the pond. Nix the minnow net. He seemed to ignore it when it arrived on scene but after several failed attempts to steer him into a watery trap, he quickly learned to turn tail and hide beneath the cotoneaster if I brought out the net.
At one point, I did not see him for several days. “Yes,” I thought. “I rolled up the welcome mat and he’s taken the hint.” But no, he is still here and watching me now from the shadowy vegetation. And I can only watch him from the window where I took the photo above with a telephoto lens. He’s wise to me. If I crack a door slowly, he’s gone.
I still sit by the near empty pond to enjoy the fish and insects. Occasionally, across the pond, the cotoneaster branches convulse as if a wild boar is careening beneath. I know who it is and I think he’s probably caught a hapless creature in that charge.
My next move should be to trim overhanging branches, sedges, and begin to remove the fieldstone, then I should remove his food supply, the few fish, but at this point I’m beginning to have nightmares that he may grab my foot and swallow me. Can a snake grow more intelligent? I know he’s outsmarted me.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester
The answer, my friend, suns himself on the edge of the pond. It’s no longer a fish and frog pond. It is a snake pond. This is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). He’s big, he’s not afraid of me and he’s eaten every single frog in the pond.
Our army of frogs began to dwindle about 3 weeks ago. I suspected something sinister, maybe a raccoon or a great blue heron. I continued to putter around the pond, wading knee deep into the crocosmia and cotoneaster to pull a errant honeysuckle vine or walnut tree sprout. On my last venture into the thicket, I stepped close to the pond and something big shot from beneath my foot and disappeared quickly, branches moving along its route. “Ah-ha,” I thought. “We have one big bullfrog left.”
It was a couple of days later when the Northern Water Snake first showed himself, fat and content, slithering in and out of the water and dashing to hide beneath the cotoneaster. It was he in the thicket, not a bullfrog that I disturbed. All of my frogs he wore on his waistline. He has eaten every last one.
A quick count of my fish tells me they are his latest victims. This week the snake no longer attempts to hide himself. Each day I stand at the pond staring at him as he curls up on the warm rocks basking and regarding me, tongue flitting, sensing his environment. His look tells me that this is his pond now. But he does not know me at all. I am already planning my strategy.
This is not a snake I’d want to share the water with. Often mistaken for a cottonmouth, the Northern Water Snake is not venomous but, like all water snakes, it can be cranky. It may charge and it does bite. It dines on amphibians and fish day and night, routinely eating fish as they sleep at night. Grrrrr!
The snake is beneficial to the environment but not to my pond. I will not harm him but my game plans involve a minnow trap and/or a butterfly net. I know a beautiful lagoon about 6 miles from here that awaits this fella’s arrival. I hope I trap him soon or all I’ll have left is mosquito larvae living in the water!
Annie Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester