Warning: There be snakes ahead.
Last Saturday Debbie and I headed out early (for us…just before 7:00) for a run, in a futile attempt to beat the heat. For the record, Friday’s run began in wonderful 55º degree conditions; the next morning’s temperature was 20º warmer at the exact same time.
Anyway, the other motivation to get out early was that we could get most of our run in on the Ram Rock golf course path before the Gatekeepers chased us off the path. So, we headed down Bay West Blvd, and veered off onto the cart path just before the bridge over Dry Branch Creek. From there we went parallel to the 11th fairway, and crossed the Creek on another bridge. Looking down to the water, we spotted a regular resident of that section of the creek:
Nerodia erythrogaster, commonly known as the plain-bellied water snake
As the caption says, this is a plain-bellied water snake, a non-venomous eater of frogs and fish. They’ve been known to steal a catch from the hook of a non-observant fisherman. It’s hard to tell by this photo, but the snake is resting on top of the algae-covered surface of the lazy creek.
After stopping for a quick snapshot, we continued down the path, running past the 12th hole, then running the 13-14-15 hole loop backwards to avoid a dog walker, and we then retraced our steps back to 11 and under the Bay West bridge. As we approached the next bridge (Dry Branch winds around a lot), the former mayor and his wife approached — also walking a dog — and as we passed them, he said “there’s a snake ahead; be careful!”
Sure enough, there was a fat, black snake resting on the cart path, with a curious groundskeeper in a ATV videoing it. We quickly identified the snake as a venomous cottonmouth.
Agkistrodon piscivorus aka cottonmouth, aka water moccasin
The cottonmouth, as I’ve pointed out on these pages before, is a pit viper, in the same family as rattlesnakes and copperheads. They put on a fierce show of “gaping,” thereby exposing the white interior of their mouths that gives rise to the name, but it really is mostly for show — a defensive warning mechanism. It takes some really annoying behavior on the part of a human to get it to strike (I’m not sure why you’d even want to test that). This one was close to the opening on the bridge where it could slide back into the water, and I’m sure it would have quickly done so if we nosy humans hadn’t confronted it.
I took a couple of photos, and we proceeded down the path to the trail where we could exit the golf course and get back on the street — which we did so, although we were on the path one minute longer than the law allowed. I blame the snakes.
That trail takes us to Blister Gold (I’ve always been curious about the source of that name), which leads back to Bay West Blvd, and from there back to our neighborhood.
But halfway down Blister Gold we encountered the third serpent sighting of the morning:
Thamnophis proximus, commonly known as the western ribbon snake
This cute little fellow — about 18″ long — was sunning itself in the middle of the street. It’s a harmless western ribbon snake, a species of garter snake, and alert Gazette readers may recall that we found one on the floor of our dining room a couple of years ago.
It really had no business lying in the street, even if said street is not well-traveled, so we scooted him into the adjoining pasture where it could hunt for the wide variety of creatures on which it dines, assuming none of them are very big.
While it’s not uncommon to encounter snakes in this area, especially during this time of the year, coming across three of them in one 45 minute run is an exceptional occurrence, and one that we greatly enjoyed. Snakes are terribly misunderstood, and a little education about their characteristics and behaviors goes a long way toward learning to live with them…well, as long as they’re not in our dining room.
Now, spiders…well, that’s a whole other issue.