PENN RUN — Scary, icky, creepy.
Those are some of the descriptions of the image of a snake shown striking at a sunfish on a fishing line at Yellow Creek State Park in eastern Indiana County.
Call it viral, too.
Shot by 17-year-old Taylor Rake, of Northern Cambria, the photo was shared and circulated by scores of Rake’s friends, and friends of friends, after she posted it on the Facebook social networking site.
Along with the cringing and shuddering, though, came some questioning. There seemed to be little doubt that the photo was real — not edited or altered to fabricate the stunning image — but that the picture came out of Rake’s camera and wasn’t downloaded from a website gave some people pause.
Specifically, Rake said, she was on the edge of the lake between the boat rental center and the swimming beach when she captured the image of the snake springing up from the water, trying to devour the fish she had just reeled in from the lake.
And because Rake and her mother provided a multitude of photos made at the same time, park Manager Ken Bisbee said he had some assurance that the photos were made at Yellow Creek Lake — although he said he could not positively verify where the photos had been shot.
Everything in them was real and possible at Yellow Creek Lake, he said.
“The snake is a northern water snake,” Bisbee told the Gazette. It’s a non-poisonous snake, common to Pennsylvania, which normally grows to 3 to 4 feet in length.
The one in the photo meets the description, he said.
And although water snakes ordinarily are harmless and reclusive, they are not aggressive unless cornered, Bisbee said.
And in this case, the snake struck such a dramatic pose because it had been enticed, according to Bisbee.
“According to the girl and her mother, the snake let go of the fish as soon as it realized it was being pulled out of the water,” he said. “The girl also said that she knew the snake was there and tried to entice it to bite the fish by reeling it in very slowly.”
Rakes acknowledged that the drama was somewhat staged.
“It’s a northern water snake, and it’s perfectly harmless,” Rakes told the Gazette in an online question-and-answer interview. “The snake probably wouldn’t have normally attacked the fish, but as I was reeling it in the snake was under a rock in front of me and I think it was just hungry, that’s why it attacked.
“That was the only snake I saw, but the ranger said there’s probably over 100 snakes there.”
Rake said she saw no other snakes on the land, and that the one in the photo was only in the water.
Both the snake and the sunfish on her line got away.
“I shook the snake off the fish because my mom was scared, and she thought it was poisonous, and shortly after the snake fell off, the fish did, too, and it swam away,” Rake said.
Although the photo of the snake and the fish generated sensation after it was posted online, Rake said that wasn’t her intent.
“People shouldn’t be scared to come back to Yellow Creek because of a snake,” she said. “The picture did make it look scary, but we want people to know they’re harmless and not to be scared to come back, because that’s not why we posted the photos. We posted it to find out what kind of snake it is.”
Yellow Creek State Park officials have posted no public warnings or given any advice about encountering snakes in the park.
And Bisbee didn’t have any recommendations for people who visit the park.
“Water snakes also can be confused with copperhead snakes,” according to Bisbee, but, he said, he has never seen a real copperhead in Yellow Creek State Park in the 23 years he has worked there.
Even the water snakes at Yellow Creek are not commonly seen, Bisbee told the Gazette.
“They typically inhabit rocky areas of shorelines, which is where this girl apparently was fishing.”