Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Eyes bigger than stomach

I was walking by the pond when I noticed that a goldfish had died and was floating among the water plants. I bent down to pick it up with the intentiion of putting it on the compost heap but, as I got closer, the dead fish quickly sank back down into the water!

After a minute or so, it came back up, and only then did I realize that, attached to the fish was a snake trying to swallow it! The snake had to push the fish back up out of the water to catch its breath!

For about an hour and a half, that snake kept pushing on the dead fish in all directions and opening its jaws as much as possible to get the fish in. It made progress, but that progress was slow.

From what I could see of the snake: white belly with a white and black checkerboard pattern on top, it was an Eastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulatum triangulatum). We see them regularly in the garden. They are constrictors, so presumably it caught the fish under water and wrapped itself around it before trying to swallow it. When I first noticed it, the fish was quite dead.

After at least 90 minutes, our snake had to face the fact that it had misjudged the size of fish which its  jaws could accommodate and had to give the fish up. The spitting out took several minutes, given all the efforts made to get the fish to go in. Obviously, snakes also make mistakes!

Trying to spit out the fish (bracing itself on rocks?)

While all this was happening, I noticed, less than a meter away, that someone was keeping a very low profile indeed (upper left in the picture below). I took pity on that frog, caught it with a fish net and moved it,  rather than leave it in the proximity of a starved and, by that time, presumably frustrated, snake.

The snake hid in the rocks lining the pool, and I left it to its own devices. The regular diet of the Eastern milk snakes is rodents, so they are good to have in the garden. As for the fish, I put it by the side of the pool, and on the following morning, most of it was gone. Someone, no doubt a raccoon, had had most of it for breakfast.


  1. That's fascinating! You got some great photos, too.

  2. Not so often you can witness such a treatment !
    I hope you'll still have fish by the end of the season.
    Thank you for the reportage :)

  3. Poor little fish the snake killed it for nothing.

  4. Absolutely fascinating Alain, I love to see such genuine observations of nature at work.

  5. Alain ! My goodness what a morbid yet fascinating drama you witnessed and took amazing photos of at the same time .. me ? I would have walked away VERY quickly!LOL .. I have never seen a situation like this and even more unlikely the "spitting out" part is remarkable.
    Well done you ! I now view you as a National Geographic photo op guy !
    Amazing !
    Joy : )
    Thank you for your kind words on my post !

  6. Wow, what a wildlife story in your garden! I'm amazed!
    BTW, do you overwinter your goldfish in pond? I had a koi fishes one year in my pond but unfortunately they had died by following spring.

    1. Do dead leaves fall into your pond in the autumn? Usuallly fish die in winter not of cold or of hunger but because dead leaves are trapped in the water under the ice and they use all the oxigen to break down. The fish die because they can no longer breath.
      Mine survive the winter but I only have 2 big ones left out of 12. All the others were eaten by king fishers, racoons - and it would appear snakes! However over the years they have had babies and there are more small ones.

    2. Yes, I have oaks and some willows above my pond and there is lot of leaf material fallen in each fall. So that explains. I have lot of silver Prussian carps in my pond but I quess those would survive even without water! :D

  7. What a milksop I am ... I was fascinated by your tale, but had to peep at the photos through my fingers as I am petrified by fish (silly I know, just something about the way they flap out of water!!) and snakes (the way the move). I do just love to be scared!!
    The snakes clearly fulfil a useful role in the garden if they gobble up the rodents ( rats and mice ? Love 'em ... not the least bit scared !!)

  8. Fascinating. My goodness, you do have exotic wildlife. Are these snakes venomous?

  9. These are not venomous, although we do have one which is. It is very rare and an endangered species but it happens to be most common just around here! I no longer talk about it as I have realized that many relatives and friends have never visited simply because they are afraid to meet one!


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