Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

Local Snake Species

[NOTE: Photo featured on link from FB page is of an Eastern Gartersnake. Photo by Joe Crowley, Ontario Nature site]

Only 9 species of snake call our region of Eastern Ontario home.

Of the seventeen species  in Ontario, only 9 are found in our area. Our local expert Tobi Kiesewalter: key conservation issues for the snakes here include: maintaining habitat and increasing awareness of risks snakes face from road hazards and human persecution. Although none of Eastern Ontario’s snakes pose a danger to humans, they are often misunderstood or feared because they are rarely seen or when seen they may be mistaken for another species which could pose a danger.

Surprisingly, although it is generally rare for snakes, five Eastern Ontario species do not lay eggs at all but give birth to live young. As a consequence hazards of the road are even more serious for these species if a gravid female is involved.

Recommended on-line resource for more details and photos for these 9 species: Ontario Snakes Resource – Toronto Zoo

1. Northern Water Snake: may be mistaken for the venomous water moccasin. Gives birth to live young

2. Eastern Milk Snake:may be encountered acting aggressively while shaking its tail
against dry leaves, and be incorrectly identified as a rattlesnake. COSEWIC species of special concern

3. Black (Eastern) Rat Snake: a threatened species in Ontario. In winter Black Rat snakes congregate in communal burrows or hibernacula and they return to the same ones year after year. Therefore they should never be relocated more than 100-200 metres away; they will die when winter comes.  Temperature regulation is also important in the summer. Eggs laid in carefully chosen nests will require 10 weeks of 30 degrees C to develop. Therefore it is critical to not disturb rock piles, rotting stumps or standing dead trees. Sightings of rare black rat snakes can be reported to the Natural Heritage Information Centre at

4. Northern (Dekay’s) Brown Snakegives birth to live young

5. Northern Red-bellied Snake: gives birth to live young

6. Ring-necked Snake: not endangered. Ring neck and orange-yellow belly.

7. Eastern Ribbon Snake: white half-moon markings in front of its eyes. Listed as species of special concern. Gives birth to live young.

8. Eastern Smooth Green Snake:elusive but beautifulBright green and shiny.

9. Eastern Garter Snakegives birth to live young

Our expert Tobi Kiesewalter says: “our snakes are a tough bunch”. He explains: They survive in spite of challenges of being ‘ectotherms’ in our cold climate, thanks to adaptations and to the proper habitat still being found here. Forest edge habitat is critical since to regulate body temperature they need both cooling forest shade and open areas for basking in the sun. Especially for the endangered black rat snake, it is critical to not disturb rock piles, rotting stumps or standing dead trees.

As mentioned, although it is generally rare for snakes, five Eastern Ontario species do not lay eggs
at all but give birth to live young. The live-bearing or ‘gravid’ females can control the temperature
of developing young by regulating their own temperature. As a consequence, however, hazards of
the road are even more serious for these species if a gravid female is involved.



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Our natural history talks are at 7:30 pm on the third Thursday in January, February, March, April,  September, October and November at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St. in Almonte, Ontario. All are welcome to attend! Non-members $5. 

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