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Snake swimming in the sea - is this normal?

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johnsquires View Drop Down
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    Posted: 25 Jul 2012 at 9:04pm
I saw a snake swimming in the sea today, just off a sandy beach on the Norfolk coast. It was only a few metres out, and it swam along on the surface just like how a snake would slither along the ground. It came along, from the North, heading along at about half my walking pace. It was attracting a lot of spectators. It swam past some children who were playing out at approx one metre depth, much to the alarm of their dad!
 
Can anyone tell me if this is normal or common for a snake? Presumably it was just a land snake taking a swim. I don't know much about snakes, but it definitely had a snake-like head, and scales. Could have been a metre long.
 
It was a hot day, maybe 26 degrees C, plenty of sun. The snake wasn't bothered by the people in the sea, or by the seals that were also around. I've certainly never seen anything like it before. Any ideas what it was up to?
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Suzy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2012 at 9:47am
John
By the size of it it sounds like a grass snake. There are posts on this forum about sea swimming snakes and from memory I think they were all adders. There is a photo of one in the sea at Branscombe which will have come off the undercliff, which is thick with them, and crossed the beach into the water. I think the feeling is they are territory seeking - some places abroad regularly have snakes crossing water to islands.
Many years ago my brother tried to catch a large grass snake that was basking on a pebble beach on the shore of Lake Windermere. It escaped by swimming out into the lake but eventually turned and headed back to shore. This was freshwater of course.
Suz
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AGILIS View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AGILIS Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2012 at 1:05pm
Dont forget there are eels swimming around the coast that could be mistaken for snakes??
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sussexecology View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote sussexecology Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jul 2012 at 4:47pm

interesting sighting for sure.

Funnily enough, i was talking to somebody only yesterday about adders being able to swim. This is not well documentated in literature that adders can swim but must admit i have never seen it for myself, but i have come across 2 or 3 people who have witnessed them swimming. These were all in freshwater habitats though.

Do you recall seeing a distinctive pattern at all on the snake, such as a zig-zag pattern along it's body? This would be adder if so. Grass snakes have a yellow mark on their head, but not sure if you would have been able to see this or not ?? It is very distinctive though

Keith is right though that eels can be easily mistaken for grass snakes.

Regards
SE Reptile Ecologist




Edited by sussexecology - 26 Jul 2012 at 4:48pm
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Mark_b View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mark_b Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jul 2012 at 9:10am
Eels don't tend to swim on the surface do they?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jul 2012 at 9:25am
There are references in the literature of adder being caught in fishing nets well out to sea. We also have had several accounts on the forum of adders swimming in the sea. There has been speculation locally regarding adders swimming in the Blackwater estuary to reach Osea Island.

Adder will certainly do it, why they do it is a bigger question to me, so I can't shed any light on that, perhaps they just like it on hot sunny days! This might actually have something in it as most of the sightings reported seem to occur on the hottest days and it may be simply a thermoregulation behaviour.

Certainly though something I have never observed first hand so thanks for reporting your experience John.
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AGILIS View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AGILIS Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2012 at 5:10pm
I have seen adders on the beach at Studland in the past within a few wiggles from the sea keith
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote johnsquires Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jul 2012 at 9:16am
Thanks for your replies folks. Absolutely nobody believes me about this when I tell it to them, they all say it was an eel, but it certainly looked like a snake to me, flat head, scales etc. Judging by pictures on Google I'd say it was a grass snake but I couldn't really say for sure. I was at Winterton-on-Sea where there are a lot of dunes. It's not near a river, so definitely salt water. There are Terns nesting on the beach, would snakes be attracted to the beach to eat the eggs? Oh, and to confirm, it was definitely swimming on the surface of the water, head out of water, body half submerged, making the typical snake-like S patterns. I wish I'd had my camera!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jul 2012 at 7:55pm
It could have been either snake species as I believe that the area has lots of both. It would be good to have it recorded and you can either here or on the record pool www.arguk.org/recording 

We have an eel project in Hampshire eel sightings are sorted by where the animal is spotted animals hogging the river bottom are usually potential eel sightings while swimming at the surface is often a grass snake. 

Adders are not adverse to salt water and there are several sightings in the river crouch, river Blackwater which leads me to conclude that they do cross the sea to islands. Rat island in the Stroud near mersea have grass snakes and probably come from the seawall. 

I would love to radio track these snakes to see whether they regularly take these seawater trips et. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AGILIS Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2012 at 6:12am
Also there could be sea snakes arriving here from warmer parts of the world as the climate changes but more lik a nat .keith.
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