For several years there was a big black snake living at my house. The only time it scared me was during lunch on a cold late March day. I often went home for lunch and walked through my garden, relaxing from the hectic routine of angry phone calls at work. I was walking in the garden that day and looked down just as I stepped over this snake. If I could do the broad jump in the Olympics under those same conditions - coat, tie and big snake under my feet, I could set a new world record. I don’t think I screamed this time since there was no one around to hear me or paddle me away from it!
One day I was working on my well pump and was bent over it for about 30 minutes. I stood up and, right at eye level on the shelf that had been over my head, was the big black snake’s skin. I swear it had not been there when I went in and started working. The skin was very fresh and soft - I stretched it out and it is 6 feet, two inches long. It was perfect - the only one I have ever found that was completely whole. You can even see where the eyes were on this skin! I have it on my wall and a picture of it is above! That snake lived around my house for years. I saw it several times each year and the dogs often barked at it. Once it was curled in the braces under the back deck, another time it was outside the well house and the dogs barked until it slithered into a hole in the wall. The snake was nice to have around since it ate mice and rats. I haven’t seen it in a few years, I guess it finally went to snake heaven!
Dogs and snakes don’t really go together. I live near the Flint River and love to wade the shoals fishing for bass and bream. There is water weed everywhere and I see dozens of snakes every time I go. If I see a head slip under water ahead of me, I avoid that area, and if one is swimming toward me I make sure it doesn’t think I am a handy bush, but otherwise I leave them alone and they leave me alone.
My dog Merlin was my constant fishing companion for 14 years and she went on almost every fishing expedition with me - except to the river. There were two big problems at the river. She always got extremely excited when I hooked a bass and would go right to the edge of the boat, whining and wagging her tail while I fought it. She really went wild when one jumped and fell out of the boat several times . On the shoals there was nothing to stop her from going right to the fish, and shoal bass jump a lot. When she was with me I could hook one in a hole and that was it, because she was after it, trying to catch it for me while I fought it. A dog swimming around stopped any other fish there from biting!
She also thought snakes were playmates. The big black snake in the back yard pretty much ignored her but the river snakes were not used to her. The snake in the back yard was not poisonous but some at the river definitely were. When I waded the shoals, Merlin stayed home. I would have put up with her messing up the fishing to have the fun of having her along, but I could not have lived with myself if she got bit by a snake.
Most snakes are not poisonous but most people think every snake is deadly. Every snake in the water is a deadly “water moccasin,” and will kill you if you get near it. Actually, most of the water snakes I see are banded water snakes and are harmless. There is one snake that lives in the water and is deadly. And it is the only snake I know in my area that is aggressive. Cotton mouth moccasins are very poisonous and will not immediately try to get away from you. They are not common and I have seen only two in my life. One was very dead - another fisherman had killed it That was when I realized how accurate the name is - when I pried open the dead snake’s mouth with a stick it was white as a cotton ball in a pill bottle.
The second one was more frightening. My wife, mom, dad and I were fishing for crappie in the shallows in April A beaver lodge was back in the button bushes under a willow tree right on the edge of the small channel. I had caught some big crappie beside it in past springs so I worked near it. I commented that a motor cycle tire had either floated onto the lodge or the beaver had pulled it there as part of their home. All of us looked at the tire as we fished. Suddenly, I realized the “tire” had a head. It was a cotton mouth curled in a circle lying in the sun. About five feet long, it was at least six inches thick. I found out later this is characteristic of these snakes when mature - short and fat!
That snake never left although we got within a few feet of it and Merlin barked at it when she saw it raise its head. It did open its mouth and the stark white really stood out against the dark beaver lodge and dark snake. That snake did not worry about us at all. I suspect if I had hit at it or got too close it might have tried to bite us, but it was too sleepy lying in the warm sun to be aggressive. I have always been extremely careful when fishing that cove although I have never seen the snake again.
It is a good idea to learn about snakes and how to identify them. Although growing up on a farm, I did not really learn about snakes until I started teaching life science. Then my classes often watched films about them and looked them up in books. Everyone seems fascinated by snakes, even those very afraid of them!