Water Snakes Prevalent
Inside the Outdoors, May 20,

As seems to be the custom before getting into the main topic for discussion today, a gentleman emailed me recently about an awesome experience that thrilled him to no end.

Eric Depree decided to take his kayak and paddle down the Loyalhanna Creek from Cardinal Park, Saturday, May 7. No sooner did the area resident get to Third Bridge did he note something very special. There in his midst was a bald eagle. Totally uplifted by his discovery, he stated that it was a “wonderful sight!”

More and more of these national birds are being seen somewhere along this top rated waterway. It’s always great to get emails so I can pass this type of information on to the readers of this column.


Legion Keener Park is becoming famous for a lot of great attractions. It’s a great place for picnics, playgrounds and fishing in the Loyalhanna Creek. Pertaining to the latter, there are any number of fish species in that body of water that can be seen to the right of the Earl Dalton Walking Path. But to my knowledge, I’ve seldom have written about a particular breed of creature that has made its home above and below the catwalk, along the shoreline, the Northern Water Snake.

Many times I have been fishing, standing on the catwalk only to see these creatures swim from one side to another. Every so often a young snake would swim up to the wall and find a calm area where he would lay on the bottom.

Recently, I noticed on Facebook.com a posting from Latrobe’s famous naturalist, Tim Vechter, that he had caught one of these snakes just opposite the walking path that was 45 inches long with a girth of five inches. He stated that it was the largest such snake he had ever pulled out of the creek that size.

When I told this story to a friend, I was asked, “Did he catch it while fishing?” “Definitely not,” I said. “Tim catches everything by hand or apparatuses to catch snakes externally.”

Many observers get these snakes mixed up with Copperheads. I was a bit shaken when I saw my first Northern, but learned that they are not poisonous, which put my mind at ease.

According to www.fcps.edu, “Northern Water Snakes are one of our most common snakes. Because their color patterns aren’t always the same, and also because they’re often covered with must, water snakes are confused with other species.”

It was disclosed that these snakes could grow to over four feet long. “They can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black. Also, the older the snake gets, the darker it gets. An old snake will become black. The one Vechter caught was gold colored with a yellow belly. The bellies can also be white or gray.

He stated that where his snake was found, it seemed to be a gathering spot for about one-half dozen snakes. Looking at his pictures that he had on his Facebook page, I could see the walking path in the background, so I knew exactly where he had found his catch.

It seems Northern Water Snakes can be found other places besides streams such as lakes, ponds, marshes and rivers.

“During the day,” the website stated, “water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals.”

This is interesting. “These snakes defend themselves viciously when they are threatened,” it said. “If they are picked up by an animal, or person, they will bite, as well as release poop and musk (bad smelling liquid),” it said.

When Tim picked up the snake, it was quite active, he said, but after he put it in his lap and petted it slowly, it seemed to like it and calmed down almost immediately.

“It liked laying on my lap so much, I had a hard time getting it to leave.” Tender loving care (TLC) seems to be a plus to anything, including snakes, it seems.

Even though the snake is not non-venomous, it can still bite. If a person is bitten by a water snake, I learned in my research that the bites will cause profuse bleeding because it has an anticoagulant quality of the snake’s saliva. So, it’s best just to watch and admire, if that’s the right word.

As everything living, these creatures have predators, too. Some include birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes.

And one more thing. When Northern Water Snakes have their young they are livebearers. That means they don’t lay eggs. Females carry the young inside their bodies until birth. “A female may have as many as 30 at a time,” it stated.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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