Will water snakes come near humans when swimming?

Water snake

Will water snakes come near humans when swimming? I heard that a cottager was dangling his leg off a dock and one wrapped around his leg! Ew. I’m afraid to go in the lake. —Joyce Sullivan, via e-mail

Be unafraid. Be very unafraid: Water snakes—like all snakes, really—would rather avoid you. It’s true that a water snake might come near a splashing person (or a dangling limb), but once it realized that the activity wasn’t caused by a potential food source (a frog, tadpole, or small fish), it would probably just swim away.

You should know that if you do see a water snake in your lake, it’s a good thing. Water snakes are very sensitive to environmental degredation, so their presence means your water’s health is in decent shape. Plus, northern water snakes eat diseased fish (they’re easier to catch), which helps to keep the fish population strong.

So what happened to this cottager and his dangling leg? We assume, nothing. Sure, it’s possible he was accosted by a water snake…or maybe it was just an aquatic weed.