Sometimes one is surprised by what can be found out in the woods. While stepping over this stream I spotted something out of place in a winter world. It had been warm enough on the previous days for the streams fast moving water to melt. In the water was this snake, its beautiful pattern jumping out at me.
Turned out to be a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon. As the name implies they live in the water, sometimes getting quite large, one I saw in the past basking in the middle of the road looked similar to a Timber Rattler in size, shape and pattern. This similarity to rattlesnakes and its presence in the water similar to water moccasins (also called cottonmouth) leads to people killing them after misidentification. Personally if I came across a rattlesnake or cottonmouth that was not in or very close to my home I would not kill them anyway.
How and why this one died is a mystery to me. There was not a mark on it, it looked unblemished by death and was even flexible. The water we found it in was probably 35 degrees or less (the air temp was 25 or so). I have read that they hibernate in rock crevices and such the way most snaked do. Is is possible it was hibernating close to the water level and when it rose due to snow melt on some of the warmer days was washed out?
I thought about taking it home and eating it. Deneen talked me out of it in case it could somehow survive such an ordeal and come to in the spring. Amphibians are known to be able to freeze and thaw with no ill effects. I have not heard of reptiles being capable of that. People don’t know everything and I was not in any great need of food so I put it back in the water. Wonder what will become of it.