LIVINGSTON COUNTY – The results of the GeneseeSun.com’s poll are in, but only left nature enthusiasts scratching their heads.
The results are split 50-50: an equal number of readers voted ‘northern water snake’ and ‘milk snake.’
However, the experts are unanimously identifying this as a northern water snake. Ella Wynn, a rafting guide with Adventure Calls Outfitters in Letchworth State Park, posted the photo to the Facebook page ‘Snake Identification’ to confirm her belief that it was a water snake, and snake enthusiasts resoundingly agreed.
“Northern watersnakes have banding on the front part of the body that changes to three rows (left side-top-right side) of alternating dark blotches on the rear of the body,” posted Elgin Nathaniel Hobbs III, whose Facebook profile lists him as an ecology student at Agusta University. “The blotches on the side of Northern watersnakes are squarish. Eastern milksnakes also have blotches but no banding around the neck region like in this snake. Eastern milksnakes have smaller blotches on the side that are definitely not as big or squarish like the side blotches of this Northern watersnake. Northern watersnakes are commonly found in or near water, like this guy is. Not to say that you won’t see an Eastern milksnake in or near water, but this is common behavior of watersnakes. You can’t tell from this picture but watersnakes have heavily keeled scales while milksnakes have smooth scales.”
Both northern water snakes and milk snakes are commonly found in the Genesee Valley and are harmless to humans. Water snakes are less common than milk snakes.
In a reprinted centerfold of the New York State Conservationist, available here, Richard Bothner and Alvin Breisch add some insight to the two species and their habits.
Bothner and Breisch said that northern water snakes are commonly found in or near water and feed primarily on frogs and small fish. Their proximity to water and bold behavior can cause many people to mistake them for venomous species like cottonmouths, which do exist in New York, or water mocassins, which have a northern limit of southern Virginia.
Milk snakes, sometimes mistakenly referred to as spotted adders, are frequently found in and around barns, outbuildings and houses where
they look for mice. Their constant presence in barns apparently led some farmers to believe that the snakes were drinking milk from their cows, and called them ‘milk snakes.’