Lake snake

By Phil Plait | September 4, 2010 7:00 am

It’s Caturday! So here’s a snake in a lake.

I was biking to the store past a lake, and there it was. Pretty cool. What I like about this is that it kinda looks like it’s gliding through hazy air.

I also took this picture second as well. This is the same lake where I saw the Blue Heron fishing, for those of you with long Caturday memories. Perhaps someday I’ll see a heron eating a snake. Which, I admit, sounds like the beginning of a joke.

After I hopped back on my bike, a jogger ran past me, and as she did I told her about the snake and to take a look, and she didn’t even glance at me or break stride. Now that I think about it, random guy on bike telling jogger about a snake from point of view of said jogger = potentially unfortunate situation. I’ll try to think these things through before acting on them in the future.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Caturday, snake

Comments (44)

  1. Very cool picture for snakeday.
    I think the jogger/biker interaction is all about how you assess the other person and your own mood.
    Sometimes, for whatever reason, you get a weird vibe and you just ignore.
    Sometimes you are in a zone and you really don’t want to break out of it and acknowledge any other part of the world.
    And sometimes discussions about snakes create weird vibes. Just saying.

    I’m most often in the second category – I create a little bubble of “my own world” around me and I don’t want other people to interfere with it. Kind of a good psuedo-autistic mood. (that might be bad taste and please accept apologies if you take it that way, but believe me it wasn’t meant that way.)

  2. LKM

    I second Non-Believer. Sometimes when I go jogging (or writing code, or even when doing something stupid like buying groceries), I’m so in the zone that when somebody talks to me, it takes a few seconds to register, and by then, it’s too late to really respond.


    Phil Plait:

    After I hopped back on my bike, a jogger ran past me, and as she did I told her about the snake and to take a look, and she didn’t even glance at me or break stride.

    Now that I think about it, random guy on bike in America(?) telling jogger about a snake from point of view of said jogger = tree-hugging liberal atheist! 😉

  4. Chris Winter

    A male bicyclist telling a female jogger about a snake… (I’m assuming she didn’t know you were as pure of intent as the late Dr. Asimov.) Hypothetically speaking: “Uh-oh! Scary snake references… ophidian subtext… Freudian overtones… Pretend not to notice.”


  5. Samuel L. Jackson
  6. Ross

    In retrospect you probably shouldn’t have gone with “Hey lady, wanna see a snake?”

  7. elaine

    While the random comment about a snake, in particular, from male stranger A to female stranger B, might be reason enough for B to keep her eyes forward and ignore A, I think it could just be that some people really don’t care (or don’t care, at that particular moment) about such things. Or so I assume, because I’m the gal who stops strangers to point out a flock of waxwings stripping a mountain ash of its berries, or to share a laugh at a squirrel stretched flat out on a shady concrete bench cooling himself on a hot day. It’s kind of a magical thing to share wonder with someone. But I do get a lot of quizzical looks from people.

    I’d’ve stopped and looked. It’s cool.

  8. Excellent picture Phil. not sure what I would have thought being the jogger but as a guy with a camera I would have done exactly the same thing you did. I even have swimming snake pictures. There is even one on my Flickr page I uploaded this morning although it’s resting partly on a rock a rivers edge.

  9. jasonB

    Oh come on Phil, some times a snake is just a snake.

    Look at the bright side after the strange, sweaty guy on the bike told this women about the “snake”, she probably improved her run time exponentially.

  10. Gary Ansorge

    I’m assuming Phil DIDN’T say, “Hey lady, wanna see MY snake.”

    That would have been REALLY creepy,,,

    As a child of 4 or 5, I was wading in a pond with cousins when a water snake swam right between my legs. I’ll bet Jesus Christ could have done no better at running across the water.

    Gary 7

  11. You can always do your bit for local tourism and tell everybody about this enormous snake that you spotted in the lake and how it’s obviously a prehistoric creature. Hey, it works for Loch Ness and Lake Okanagan…

  12. BobB

    Phil you don’t want to mess with that snake. I’m not a “snake” guy, but I was warned about black water snakes in North America, it could have been a Water Moccasin, a snake with a potentially fatal bite:

    Edit: according to Wikipedia. Herons ARE a predator: “In turn these snakes are preyed upon by snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), horned owls (Bubo virginianus), eagles, loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus), and large wading birds, such as herons, cranes and egrets.”

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat picture. :-)

    Maybe the lady in question was snake-phobic. All too many people are.

    As someone used to walking Aussie bushland my advice is simple – leave ’em alone, make a bit of noise or vibration by stepping heavily and you’ll be okay. They’ll run away before you get near them.

    In regularly walking one fairly scrubby snake-habitat area several times per week over many years I’ve encountered a snake only once – with no real problem for me or the dog I was walking at the time. I saw the snake sun-bathing on the path ahead of us. I told the dog to stop which she did, we waited for it to slither away which it did fairly quickly, then we walked on.

    My brother’s dog was once nearly bitten by a snake but that’s another story. We do see them in the bush occassionally and they are a worry with dogs but otherwise – don’t touch, don’t do anything silly and you don’t really have cause for concern. :-)

    Funny how there are many celestial snakes in the sky including not one but two watersnakes :

    1. Hydra the water serpent (& also one of Plutos’ smaller moons too!) & largest constellation of them all if memory serves.

    2. Hydrus the (small) water snake :

    & of course we also have the one split constellation of

    3. Serpens the serpent :

    wrapped around Ophiuchus the serpent holder too.

    Plus there’s a lizard constellation (although not a legless lizard at least as its as usually portrtayed.) and on a reptilian mythical note Draco the dragon.

    Wonder why ancient astronomers put so many serpents in the sky? Any suggestions?

    Maybe because they’re better there than underfoot? 😉


    As it’s Caturday…

    N.B. Click on “YouTube” to watch on YouTube.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper


    Neat video. :-)

    I hope the cat survived! Not sure how that one ended for the feline – if it was my cat I’d have got her away from there pronto.

    Oh & once again, I’d like to call for the reinstatement of the constellation of Felis :

    There’s 3 snakes (Hydra, Hydrus & Serpens) and three dogs (Canis Major, Minor & Canes Venatici – which is actually two dogs making four dogs in total – not counting the “Pup”, Sirius B and the “Little Dogstar’s Puppy”, Procyon B) so having a (domestic) cat in the sky as well is only fair surely! 😉

    Finally, not entirely sure of this but I think I recall reading somewhere (in a serious book on cats) that a cat’s hiss is deliberately meant to mimic a snake’s hiss to help scare off predators. :-)

  16. Zyggy

    Bob beat me to it, but he’s right! That’s most likely a water moccasin indeed. I spent my childhood summers at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. One of the adults would always watch over us is we were swimming in the lake, mostly due to the water moccasins. One of the worst things you could hear while swimming was an adult yelling “SNAKE!” This meant “get out of the water FAST!”

    There were a lot of snakes in that area. I also remember picking up a 10-lb rock by the pool and discovering a HUGE Copperhead looking up at me in surprise. I dropped the rock back on his head. He was very surprised about that too.

  17. When I was a kid growing up in Tucson, it wasn’t unusual to come across the odd rattlesnake, particularly in the foothills near a watershed. Unfortunately, beginning in the sixties, developers and landscape designers began appropriating boulders (rattler abodes) for their own aesthetic and profitable purposes, greatly reducing the odds on meeting one of these scary yet beautiful creatures.

    Several years ago, I was swimming in a large pond in upstate New York with a good friend and her mother. At some point I could feel something moving around in my bathing trunks, upon which I jumped onto a large rock and swiftly striped myself of my trunks, all the while screaming like a wee lass at a Justin Bieber concert. A snake looking much like the one in your photo flew through the air, plopped into the water and swam away. As I was sighing and laughing in relief, I couldn’t help but notice my friend’s startled 70 year old mother was no more than a foot away from me, exactly at eye level with my mid-section. A hearty laugh was had by all, and ever since they’ve enjoyed regaling people at the dinner table (or any old table) with the tale, to my everlasting embarrassment.

    Thanks for listening, and enjoy your Caturday!

  18. buenamusa

    You mean she didn´t know you???? I mean you are FAMOUS, gessh some people just waste their lives away and don´t pay attention to the important things in the world.
    Love you, you are great,

  19. Well, Phil lives in CO, so if he was going to the store near his home (and was not somewhere else doing Sooper Seekrit stuff) then that snake is not a water moccasin. They do not occur in CO. However Phil does not always stay home. If he was in the South Eastern part of the US it may indeed be a water moccasin. Whatever it is, it’s very cool, and I’m afraid that if I’d been the woman jogger I would have stopped and tried to catch the snake. I like snakes.

  20. Clark

    That reminds me of a time I was driving down the street after a flood and saw a beaver running down the sidewalk. I stopped to watch it and it ran into a lawn next to the university dorms. A couple minutes later I was driving back and there was a couple holding each other in the middle of the lawn and since I didn’t know if the beaver was rabid or dangerous I shouted out the window “Watch out for the beaver!” After I got home I thought about it and realized what that must have sounded like to them…

  21. Autumn

    Water Moccasins are pretty easily identifiable because, even for the big poisonous snakes, they are FAT. Also, the head is more obviously triangular.

    I was jogging next to a swamp once, and heard some grunting noises coming from the water. Thinking it might be little alligators, I crept to the water’s edge (in hindsight, probably a stupid thing to have done) and came face to face with an otter standing on its hind legs holding half of a big snake in its hands and munching contentedly.

  22. JohnW

    So where’s the pic of the jogger?

  23. JK

    Bob and Ziggy are not correct and Amapola is. It is most certainly not a water moccasin especially if Phil is home in Colorado. Most likely a member of the genus Nerodia. Will probably try and bite if picked up and musk all over you but not especially dangerous.

  24. theMark

    Snake in water. Thanks. Just when I got over my “Jaws” trauma… you give me “kinda looks like it’s gliding through hazy air.”
    Argh! Whole new scary mental image … 😉
    And I can’t believe nobody mentioned Samuel L. Jackson’s “I’ve had it with those …. snakes in that … lake” – yet 😉

  25. Markle

    I spend quite a bit of time riding on trails too, Phil. Joggers are the people(male and female) least likely to acknowledge another’s existence. Not even a head nod will you get out of more than 1 in 20. With fellow bicyclists you’ll usually get a verbal greeting, even a smile. Walkers split this depending whether they are already in conversation with someone in their group.

    Even were Phil in the Water Moccasin’s range(which he isn’t) they aren’t that dangerous. Even with Diamondback and pygmy rattlesnakes you’re more in danger from the secondary effects like compartment syndrome than the venom.

  26. Dave Wiley

    I concur on Nerodia. Colorado is the wrong state for water moccasins and this snake doesn’t look like one anyway. My experience with Nerodia sipedon is if you grab one you are very likely to get bit, perhaps three or four times before you can let go, but the bites are non-venomous and no big deal. Solution: don’t grab it.

  27. jasonB


    Well put sir.

  28. I have to wonder what the cat did with that snake. It didn’t appear to be a venomous variety.

    One of our cats, one winter, discovered where the garter snakes were hibernating. He brought 2 or 3 a day back to the house for a week or so. Just little ones, but still…

  29. Ken (a different Ken)

    @Messier 13: Your advice reminds me of the time I tagged along with a friend on a boy scout hike. Their version of “make noise as you walk” consisted of a boombox in someone’s backpack blaring out the audio taped off of Dr. Who episodes…

    (Never did take a liking to either boy scouts or Dr. Who, sorry… walks through the woods I always like though)

  30. scgvlmike


    Last weekend near the local dog park, I noticed (and took a couple of pics of it, if you’re interested) a toad sitting on a rock in the middle of the river (which is more of a wide creek).

    Combine that with your heron & snake, and we’ve an AWESOME joke in the works!

  31. Nick

    Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes.

  32. I always get a kick out of people telling others to be careful because a snake might be venomous… like getting bitten at all is such a great feeling! :)

    I like snakes, but I also know to give them a wide berth. I’ve had a very close encounter with a copperhead once on a relatively remote mountain top, so this is more than simply academic knowledge!

  33. Cindy

    Once when I was observing at MDM observatory on Kitt Peak, I was heading up to the other telescope where my advisor was to ask him a question. I heard a rustling on the gravel and saw a rattlesnake about 10 feet away. I stopped and since it didn’t rattle, I gave it a wide berth and went up to ask my question.

    As I was turning away from my advisor, I said “Oh by the way guess what I just saw… a rattlesnake”. My advisor replied “I can’t believe you just said that so calmly”.

  34. Jon

    Once I was walking on a quiet road and saw a lovely hawk (red-tailed) just sitting on the wire beside. Down the road came a car, and I gestured for it to slow down and take it easy. The driver did, and got closer. But even that was just a bit much for the hawk, and it spread its wings and flew away. Beautiful thing.

    The driver of the car was also a beautiful thing, and she and I had a nice chat afterwards. She didn’t mind at all slowing down for a bird like that.

    And rattlesnakes? I’ve met many, including one tiny little one, barely larger than a pencil, hiding under a bush in my back yard. The classic coloration hadn’t even grown out on that one, but from the shape of the head it was obvious what species it was.

    anyhow, Phil, my point being ‘keep pointing them out’. Sometimes they’ll appreciate it, sometimes they won’t, and if not, it’s not your loss.


  35. Santiago

    Oh Phil, do you know what it means if you take a picture of a heron eating a snake while on a lake? It means you have found the promised land for your wandering people and must now build the capital city of your empire there! Er, I think, anyway, the original Aztec version had more cacti in it, and an eagle, not a heron, and they were only looking for an eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus, so I think the fact that it happened in the middle of a lake must have been really a massive inconvenience. : )

  36. Kate

    I watched a heron eating a snake at Tennessee Valley (just north of San Francisco). Head first, of course. Took about twenty minutes. I didn’t want to pass the heron while it was eating, so I waited. Didn’t want to be rude.

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    @25. Markle :

    Nice map but what do the colours mean? I presume its the range of the snake species or how prevalent it is in each area but what does each colour represent?

  38. Messier Tidy Upper

    @29. Ken (a different Ken) : Well I guess that’s one way. 😉

    The “make noise” thing is something I was always told and it seems to work fine.

    Perhaps these wiki-links will be handy for identification /interest here?

    See :


    the latter link being the species commnly named water moccasin, swamp moccasin or black moccasin; viper, cottonmouth and rattler! Lot of names for one species there methinks and I’m not sure its quite what’s usually meant by “rattler” but anyhow.

    Hope this helps. :-)

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    .. & I’ve just seen the explanation for the colours in Markles map on the water moccassin etc .. wiki-page which has that diagram too :

    Distribution [of snakes of the “water moccassin” varieties – ed.]

    Blue = A. p. piscivorus;
    Red = A. p. conanti,
    Green = A. p. leucostoma,
    Gray = intergradation.

    Okay then, makes sense now. :-)

  40. Gary Ansorge

    Speaking of critters, fall has finally arrived, since I just spotted a bumble bee flitting around my kitchen and that only happens when the weather is cool enough to keep my doors open.


    Cats are a LOT quicker than cold blooded critters(typical nerve conduction rates are around three feet/sec for lizards and snakes. For mammals it’s about 10 feet/sec), so the cat has a distinct advantage. Still, if that was a venomous snake, it would be a risky endeavor for the cat.

    I’ll bet kitty had a great snack.

    Gary 7

  41. Chris Winter

    It’s no longer Caturday but I’ll drop this link anyway.

    Rabbit vs. snake

    This is not the one I remember from a couple of years ago, but the outcome is similar.

    Then of course there are the videos of rabbits vs. Burmese pythons, which have a different outcome.

  42. DennyMo

    Earlier this summer, my boys and I watched a couple snakes stalk a small school of fish in a local creek. One of the snakes got lunch, the other just went hungry. It was fascinating, I can’t remember the last time my boys were that quiet for that long…

  43. Bruce Mohn


    I’ve seen a redtailed hawk flying with a snake, but have never yet seen a great blue heron eating a snake. The snake in the first instance didn’t seem to be too happy about its lift.

  44. Angela

    @ Gary Ansorge (#7)- I’m with ya! I was walking in the woods with my then boyfriend back in high school when he grabbed my arm and jerked me backwards. After looking in askance at him, he pointed at a stick on the ground. I looked at it and the “stick” stuck it’s forked tongue at me and I hit the road, Jack. I’m pretty sure I set a new land speed record that day, but I was too much of a blur to be timed. The boy caught up with me about 5 minutes later when I was back in the parking lot of the park.


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