My boys spotted this very cool creature at O'Leno State Park as it basked on a branch poking out of the Santa Fe River. My boys had been climbing the tree whose branches stretch over the river not far above this snake and were now creeping along the bank's vegetation scouting for reptiles when they saw him. SnakeBoy quickly took off his shoes and waded a few feet from shore to get a closer look.
This Brown Water Snake was sunning itself a couple of feet above the water line and could clearly see my boy approach, yet he wasn't alarmed. He was actually very docile and SnakeBoy held him without issue. Of course, I had been on the opposite bank so I had to scramble up the riverside trail, over the suspension bridge and back down another trail to where he waited, since working my way along the precarious rocks spanning the river wasn't really going to save me any time.
After a few moments and a few photos, SnakeBoy simply released him on his lap, and the snake made his way rather sedately back to the water and his favored branch for sunning himself. I later captured this picture of my other three children playing on the opposite bank with the snake in the foreground:
Here are some good things to know about the Brown Water Snake:
- these guys are non-venomous (but if they bite you, it will still hurt)
- they have keeled scales which feel quite rough rather than smooth and have a dull appearance
- they eat fish as their primary prey
- they therefore tend to stay near permanent bodies of water
- they are great climbers and often bask on branches and rocks along the bank
- females give live birth to 20-60 young in the late summer
- they are, sadly, often mistaken for venomous cottonmouths and needlessly killed as a result
I'd be lying if I said a part of me isn't concerned that my boy might somehow misidentify a snake he is about to capture. After all, let's face it, a mistake like that could potentially cost you your life. But I know he knows more about snakes than I ever will, that he has studied these creatures with deep interest, that he carries his field guide with him on all our adventures and that he knows details I wouldn't even think to question. So I truly try to limit my "Are you sure that's not a venomous one? Are you sure that's not a moccasin?" line of questioning. I like to think it helps keep him on his toes. Just breathe, I tell myself....
Of course, my boys weren't done.
Now back on the opposite bank, SnakeBoy had captured another Brown Water Snake.
He was just a little guy but this one sure was feisty! As soon as SnakeBoy grabbed him, he started to squirm vigorously and released stinky urine all over my boy's hands in a desperate act of self-defense. SnakeBoy held on though, with gentle determination, and soon the snake calmed down enough to be displayed to the rest of the family and handed over to FireBoy for further examination and admiration.
FireBoy had actually been the first one to spot him. As he was jumping from one rock to another, he happened to pounce onto a rock and as soon as his hands grasped the edge, he saw this fella all curled up on the sunny side. I don't know who was more startled in that moment but this guy darted speedily down the rock and into the water, swimming down to his hideaway beneath the rock. It was only a few hours later that the boys rediscovered him on the branch right next to the original rock and were able to catch him.
The boys held this little guy for several moments before eventually releasing him back onto his original branch. He swiftly dropped himself into the cool water below and again swam back under his rock, presumably to recuperate from his experience. Who can blame him?
This wasn't all. We were tipped off to an even larger snake curled up just a little way downstream in the embrace of a mighty cypress several feet above the water:
All in all, O'Leno proved to be a great state park for spotting a variety of reptiles. Besides the Brown Water Snakes, we spotted Fence Lizards, Five-Lined Skinks, Green Anoles, Broad-Headed Skinks and more. Subscribe to our blog so you can Meander With Us as we share more Wildlife posts - coming soon!