Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Local Snake Species

 

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. According to Ontario Parks Interpretive Naturalist Tobi Kiesewalter (also MVFN guest speaker November 2007), 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.

The nine species are listed below the photo.

Gray Ratsnake photo by Amelia Argue/Ontario Nature

 

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. Eastern RatSnake: a threatened species in Ontario. In winter Eastern ratsnakes (Gray/Black Ratsnake) 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 Eastern ratsnakes can be reported to the Natural Heritage Information Centre at http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca. Ontario species at risk status: Threatened

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. Gives birth to live young. Ontario species at risk status: Special Concern

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

9. Eastern Garter Snakegives birth to live young

Tobi Kiesewalter told an MVFN audience in 2007: “our snakes are a tough bunch.”  He explained that 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 at risk Eastern ratsnake, it is critical to avoid disturbing 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 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.