Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cool pond inhabitants

A highlight during one of last year's school programs was seeing a water snake eat a fish. It was a long process, with the fish, a small bream, slowly disappearing down the 'throat' of the snake (a Northern water snake, apparently). I'd seen water snakes before, basking on rocks at pond's edge, or in our created rocky waterfall in the Hosta Garden, but never doing anything so interesting.

The kids were entranced- I think there was something about seeing it eating the fish that somehow made it real, and not something to be feared. Most kids are concerned about snakes, and are determined to tell me about the 'water moccasins' that live in our ponds and streams. I'm not sure they always believe me when I tell them that we don't have water moccasins here in the Upstate, only in the lower parts of South Carolina.

We do have copperheads, but it would take effort to see one in the heavily visited parts of the Garden, since they're quite shy, and readily sense us coming.

Today, we saw two Northern water snakes, a male and a female, basking in the same general place that they hung out last year. We talked about how they eat frogs, fish, juvenile turtles, crustaceans, and even small mammals, although I don't think these snakes are doing so in the Duck Pond. The kids today were also impressed, but a lot more tentative about them.

My retired elementary science teacher friend who was helping me with the program, thought the female, the larger of the two, might be reproductive; Northern water snakes produce a single litter of live young each year after a 3-5 month gestation period, bearing up to 30 young snakes up to 6cm long. These young snakes are independent at birth. This was the smaller one (presumably the male) -- in a close-up view.

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