Sunday, 5 June 2011

The snakes of Ontario -part 1

Part 1 - Eastern Gartersnake, Dekay's Brownsnake, Northern Redbelly Snake, Northern Ribbonsnake
Part 2 - Northern Watersnake, Lake Erie Watersnake, Queensnake
Part 3 - Eastern Milksnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Part 4 - Northern Ring-necked Snake, Smooth Greensnake
Part 5 - Gray Ratsnake, Butler's Gartersnake
Part 6 - Blue Racer, Eastern Massasauga


The purpose of this post is exactly how the title says: I will showcase every species of snake that is currently found in Ontario. Especially before I got into birds, herps were my main interest and I have found and photographed each of the 15 species native to Ontario. This number is often surprising to most people - this is the Great White North after all! Without further ado, part one of the post...

Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

This is the most common snake in Ontario, with records ranging all the way up to James Bay. I am pretty sure that just about any habitat can support them, from grassy fields to woodlands to alvars to parking lots. I once even found one in the grassy area of a highway interchange, surrounded by roads. 

Eastern Gartersnake - Waterloo Region

My records indicate that I have seen 1696 Eastern garter snakes in Ontario since I started keeping track in 2007.

Eastern Gartersnake - Waterloo Region

The melanistic form is quite common in some locations that are adjacent to Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. This genetic strain proliferates in relatively closed populations of the Leslie street spit, Long Point, Point Pelee, and Pelee Island. The Pelee Island population contains about 1/3 melanistic individuals.

melanistic Eastern Gartersnake - Essex County

melanistic Eastern Gartersnake - Essex County

Dekay's Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)

Another super common snake in Ontario, but rarely seen due to their small size and brownish colorations. Biggest ID point is that they look like a worm. I like the little buggers though!

Dekay's Brownsnake - Essex County

Dekay's Brownsnake - Essex County

Dekay's Brownsnake - Essex County

Northern Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata)

Redbelly snakes are the cousins of the much more common Brown Snakes, and are typically found in edge habitats. They also have a large range and can be found as far north as Lake Superior. This is the smallest species of snake in Ontario, and most adults are about 10 inches long. The babies, on the other hand, weigh less than a gram.

Northern Redbelly Snake - Norfolk County

Northern Redbelly Snake - Muskoka District

This fine specimen was found under a board in the Norfolk area, an area with a very high diversity of snakes. She looks like she is about to drop about 15 babies. (Within one km of where this snake was found, my friend Jon and I have seen E. Garter, Northern Watersnake, Northern Redbelly, Brown, Eastern Fox, Eastern Hognose, Northern Ringneck, Smooth Green, and Eastern Milksnakes).  

Northern Redbelly Snake - Norfolk County

I don't find huge numbers of them, but in some areas they can be locally abundant. In our study site in Windsor, about 0.5 percent of the snakes we find are Redbelly snakes, to give you an idea of how sparse they can be in areas.

Northern Redbelly Snake - Muskoka District

Two main forms are found in Ontario - the above snake with slate gray dorsal color, and the below snake with brown dorsal coloration.

Northern Redbelly Snake - Norfolk County

Definitely a pretty species, and underrated.

Northern Redbelly Snake - Muskoka District

Northern Redbelly Snake - Muskoka District

Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis)

Ribbonsnakes are closely related to Gartersnakes but are much more specific in their habitat requirements. I tend to find them in marshy fens/marshes that are immediately adjacent to hilly deciduous woodland in Southern Ontario. In central Ontario, any wetland that is close to an open area seems to do!


Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

As obvious in the above photo, the white crescent anterior to the eye is diagnostic of this species. Also note the slender head, as well as the brown coloration just ventral of the yellowish stripe on the snake's side.

I am fortunate to have a large population of ribbonsnakes quite close to my parent's house in Cambridge, which allowed many opportunities to study this species while I was growing up. Here area  few of my favorite photos from over the years:

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

Northern Ribbonsnake - Waterloo Region

One last shot of my favorite snake species in Ontario, feeding on their favorite prey item - frogs.

Northern Ribbonsnake - Muskoka District

Stay tuned - the next post will cover Northern Watersnake, Lake Erie Watersnake (including some very strange individuals), and Queen Snake.

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