Dear Answer Man, I'm 55 years old and never in my life have I seen this: My wife and I were enjoying happy hour at Whistle Binkies on the Lake last night and we saw something crossing the pond, leaving a V-shaped wake behind it as it came toward the restaurant. We thought it was a muskrat, though it looked too small for that, and as it got close to shore, my wife said it was a snake. I said she was being ridiculous, but we went to the edge of the patio and sure as heck, it was a snake gracefully slithering across the surface of the water. When it landed on the beach, it stayed there for a few minutes, then came slithering up the sand, and I guarantee you, it was 6 feet long. If I had picked it up toward the head and held it up, it would have been as tall as our waitress. It eventually came all the way up the beach to the cement block wall of the restaurant, and there it stopped as far as I can tell. We were sitting at a high-top table and we kept our feet high up on the stools.
What kind of snake was this, and was it poisonous? I'll send a photo. -- J.F.
If you hadn't sent the pic, J.F., I might have chalked this tale up to happy hour, but in fact, that's a northern water snake. There's only one water snake species in Minnesota and you saw it -- a more-or-less tan or cream-colored snake with lots of frog-like dark splotches on it, though it comes in so many different color schemes that it's hard to describe. It's mainly found from the St. Croix River and Twin Cities area down through our neck of the woods.
Sorry, it's generally 2 to 3 feet long, so unless your waitress was a little shorter than average, she was taller. It's not poisonous, though according to the DNR, "you probably don't want to tangle with this snake. If you pick it up it will give off a bad smell, defecate and maybe even throw up its last meal. It will also bite. Its saliva contains a substance that inhibits its victim's blood from clotting."
I'd call that basically poisonous.
Though it's the only species in Minnesota, people dump enough foreign creatures into the woods and water nowadays that who knows what you're going to find in there?
Thanks for the outstanding photo. Who won the beanbag game?
Dear Answer Man, I'm amazed at how much you know about nature, and many other things. What's the tree that's blooming around the area right now with those big white bunches of flowers on them?
Those are tree lilacs, not to be confused with some other white-flowering trees and pseudo-shrubs that are pretty at this time of year. I checked with Jacob Ryg, the city forester, regarding the showy examples on the Second Street bridge over U.S. 52 and he confirmed they're tree lilacs, and the city's preferred cultivars are the Miss Kim, Copper Curls Pekin and the Ivory Silk Japanese.