I’ve had my very own “Loch Ness monster,” or at least that was how I felt about a little snake that appeared one summer in my small pond. The fabled monster of the famous lake in Scotland is typically described as being serpent-like, appearing above the surface of the water only briefly. My first glimpse of the snake in my pond was certainly brief, allowing me just enough time to notice the splotches on its body as it dove underwater.
Every day thereafter I snuck up to the pond, hoping to get a better view of the snake so I could positively identify it. One day I was standing by the pond making notes about what was happening all around and in it. A dragonfly and damselfly were catching insects nearby, and a white waterlily blossom dwarfed the blooms of Anacharis, an underwater plant that makes me think of ocean seaweed. I noticed two tiny dark fish in the water and was thrilled to know that my goldfish had reproduced.
Suddenly, a head appeared above the Anacharis. It was the head of the little serpent and it looked so mysterious that I could not help but think of the Loch Ness story I’d first heard in my childhood. I got a photograph and discovered a juvenile Northern Water Snake was making itself at home in my pond!
My new snake (it was a first-ever sighting in my yard of this species) was about eight inches long. Books report that Northern Water Snakes are about this long when they are born (alive in litters of about eight to 50), usually in late summer. However, this individual had shown up in June.
Although water snakes are said to have “bad tempers,” my little snake exhibited cautiousness instead of nastiness. It eventually even recognized that I did not seem to have any desire to harm it because over the course of time, it got bolder and stayed put in my company. More likely these snakes are of bad temperament when humans are trying to catch them, and who could blame them for doing anything necessary to get away?
Contrary to rumor, Northern Water Snakes aren’t venomous, nor do they deplete fish populations. I can certainly attest to this last statement. Fall came and I still had plenty of goldfish, Eastern Newts, dragonfly and damselfly larvae, water striders, frogs, and many other life forms in the pond. Of course, the young snake did eat some of the critters in my pond, but it was helping to limit overpopulations of them, including my colorful non-native fish.
The young snake disappeared after spending a second summer and fall with me. Perhaps it outgrew my little pond and had to move on. I imagine most people would be just as glad if a resident snake did not reappear at winter’s end, but I was saddened. That little snake had rewarded me with much new knowledge, and I was sorry my learning opportunity had come to a close.