Ontario's snakes
Darwen, LisaOntario Out Of Doors Toronto:Jun 2002.  Vol. 34,  Iss. 5,  p. 23-27 

 

Subjects:

Snakes

Classification Codes

9172

Author(s):

Darwen, Lisa

Publication title:

Ontario Out of Doors. Toronto: Jun 2002. Vol. 34, Iss.  5;  pg. 23

Source Type:

Periodical

ISSN/ISBN:

07073178

ProQuest document ID:

349041711

Text Word Count

1945

Article URL:

http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?RQT=309&VInst=PROD&VName=PQD&VType=PQD&Fmt=3&did=000000349041711&clientId=17280

 

Abstract (Article Summary)

Ontario's most common and widespread snake, it has a dark back with three yellow stripes, one along its dorsal and one on each side, a white throat and chin, and a yellow belly. Garter snakes on Long Point and Pelee Island are melanistic, with almost entirely black backs. Preferred habitat includes farms, forests, marshes, dry uplands, backyards, and the suburbs. Prey includes frogs, worms, birds, mice, and fish. These snakes can be found as far north as James Bay, farther north than any other snake. Like the eastern fox snake, when threatened a garter snake releases a foul-smelling secretion and lashes its tail to smear the threat with its "perfume."

Contrary to its name, this snake is common and local to southern Ontario. Slender and similar to the garter snake, it has a longer tail. The body is black or brown with three yellow stripes, like the garter snake, except they're bordered with a brown band. The major difference between the two snakes is that the ribbon has a yellow crescent moon shape in front of its eyes. Preferring damp places - mostly shores of streams, ponds, bogs, and weedy lakes - it will climb into bushes near water and will swim away from shore if pursued. Prey includes frogs, salamanders, minnows, and insects. Timid, it uses scent glands for defence and rarely bites.

This is Ontario's only venomous snake. Two pits, on each side of its face between the eye and the nostril, contain an organ that can sense warm-blooded prey in the dark. Unlike the round pupils of most harmless snakes, the massasauga rattler's pupils are vertical, usually a sign that a snake is venomous. Venom comes from glands in the head and passes through canals in the fangs. The snake can control the amount of venom it injects to subdue prey. Grey or brown with large dark blotches along its back, it has a black belly. The rattle is an inaccurate indication of the snake's age. A new segment is added with each skin shedding, which can happen many times a year. The sound made when a rattlesnake shakes its tail is caused by the segments rubbing together, but it won't always sound a warning before it bites, and it doesn't have to coil completely before it can strike. This snake lives around swamps and bogs and will swim. It preys on frogs and mice and will even eat dead or decaying food. It lives along Georgian Bay, the Bruce Peninsula, and on Manitoulin Island.

Full Text (1945   words)

Copyright Rogers Publishing Limited Jun 2002

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When you're fishing from shore, look around. You might see one of 14 species of snakes found in Ontario. Often thought of as evil because of their forked tongues and blank stares, snakes are misunderstood. A snake's tongue, a sensory organ used to smell and taste, is harmless, as are most snakes in our province. They have a single scale over each eye, but no eyelids to blink, hence their "hypnotic" stare. When "charmed," they react to the moving musician, not the music. Lacking external ear openings, they depend on vibrations in the ground to "hear." Not slimy, their scaled skin is smooth and dry. Being ectothermic or cold-blooded, their body temperature is determined by the surroundings. To survive a cold winter, they hibernate underground.

A healthy, growing snake sheds its skin several times a year. When ready to moult, its colour becomes dull and the eyes cloudy. It rubs its head on the ground to make an opening in the skin and then crawls out headfirst. The skin peels off in one piece, leaving a complete imprint of the animal's pattern.

Snakes are beneficial to us economically and ecologically. Most of them eat rodents and insects that harm crops. Unable to adapt to new surroundings and food like other animals, depletion of their natural habitat, increase in human activity, acid rain, and some agricultural practices threaten them. Anglers and hunters need to be at the front lines to help these legless reptiles, because they're an important part of the outdoor experience. Here are the snakes to look for in Ontario.

EASTERN GARTER SNAKE

(Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

18 to 26 inches

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Ontario's most common and widespread snake, it has a dark back with three yellow stripes, one along its dorsal and one on each side, a white throat and chin, and a yellow belly. Garter snakes on Long Point and Pelee Island are melanistic, with almost entirely black backs. Preferred habitat includes farms, forests, marshes, dry uplands, backyards, and the suburbs. Prey includes frogs, worms, birds, mice, and fish. These snakes can be found as far north as James Bay, farther north than any other snake. Like the eastern fox snake, when threatened a garter snake releases a foul-smelling secretion and lashes its tail to smear the threat with its "perfume."

NORTHERN RINGNECK SNAKE

(Diadophis punctatis edwardsi)

10 to 15 inches

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Named after the gold collar around its neck, this slender snake with a broad, flat head is blue-grey with a bright yellow or orange belly that matches the ring around its neck. Nocturnal, it lives in woods and clearings and hides beneath stones or the bark of decaying logs. If uncovered, it darts away, more concerned with avoiding the light than being caught. It preys on insects, earthworms, small salamanders, frogs, and other small snakes. It's uncommon here, but has been seen in southern Ontario and north into south Nipissing and south Algoma.

NORTHERN RIBBON SNAKE

(Thamnophis sauritus septentri)

18 to 26 inches

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Contrary to its name, this snake is common and local to southern Ontario. Slender and similar to the garter snake, it has a longer tail. The body is black or brown with three yellow stripes, like the garter snake, except they're bordered with a brown band. The major difference between the two snakes is that the ribbon has a yellow crescent moon shape in front of its eyes. Preferring damp places - mostly shores of streams, ponds, bogs, and weedy lakes - it will climb into bushes near water and will swim away from shore if pursued. Prey includes frogs, salamanders, minnows, and insects. Timid, it uses scent glands for defence and rarely bites.

BLUE RACER

(Coluber constrictor foxi)

35 to 60 inches

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An extremely nervous snake, the blue racer is almost impossible to catch. If caught it will strike and might bite, but is non-venomous. A slender bluish-green, with a flat head, its belly is greenish-white or yellow. It blends well with leaves and suns itself on branches of shrubs. Preferred habitats are dry places, thickets, and old stone structures. Prey includes rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. In Ontario, this snake can only be found on Pelee Island and is considered endangered.

QUEEN SNAKE

(Regina septemvittata)

15 to 24 inches

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Similar looking to garter and ribbon snakes, the queen is slender, olive brown, and has a yellow stripe on each side. An excellent swimmer and diver, it can be found in streams, quarries, and canals, and it will climb branches hanging over the water. Like the blue racer, this snake is almost impossible to catch, but if it is caught, it will thrash and release a scent. Prey includes crayfish, fish, and amphibians. The queen is rare and restricted to southwestern Ontario, often in rivers and streams flowing into Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

NORTHERN REDBELLY SNAKE

(Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata)

8 to 10 inches

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Canada's smallest snake, its stout body is light to dark brown with a faint mid-dorsal stripe. Yellow on the back and both sides of its neck look like a necklace. The belly is dark orange or red. Besides the garter snake, the redbelly has the widest and most northerly distribution in Ontario. It can be found in southern and central parts of the province and near Gogama and Quetico Provincial Park. Like the brown snake, it feeds on slugs, earth-worms, and insects. It lives in moist surroundings under stones, on farms, in fields, along roadsides, and in gardens, and stays under cover until evening.

EASTERN SMOOTH GREEN SNAKE

(Opheodrys vernalis vernalis)

12 to 20 inches

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The same diameter throughout its length, its colour ranges from a bluish- to a yellowish-green, with a white or yellow belly and chin. It climbs and can be found in shrubs and vines. Often hard to see amongst greenery, it blends in and sways to imitate leaves in a breeze. When on the ground, it hides under stones or pieces of wood. Its only defence is camouflage and speed. It will bite, but is harmless. Prey includes insects, grubs, worms, grasshoppers, spiders, and caterpillars. Although common in central and southern Ontario, it's seldom seen.

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EASTERN HOGNOSE SNAKE

(Heterodon platyrhinos platyrhinos)

20 to 33 inches

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This olive-coloured snake has dark blotches along its body, a yellow belly, and a short head with an upturned snout used for plowing through sand in search of toads, its preferred prey. Toads inflate themselves in self-defence, but eastern hognose snakes are equipped with sharp teeth to deflate them. Preferred habitat includes sandy soils, beaches, and dry woods in western, southern, and central Ontario. When threatened, it rears up, hisses, spreads its head like a cobra, and vibrates its tail. If this fails to scare the predator, it lays on its back and plays dead. If flipped back on its belly, it will return to its "dead" position. This snake is now rare, but has been found in Parry Sound, south Algonquin Park, Durham, and Hastings County.

NORTHERN WATER SNAKE

(Nerodia sipedon sipedon)

24 to 42 inches

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A close relative of the endangered Lake Erie water snake, it's found along lakes and rivers as far north as Sault Ste. Marie and Lake Nipissing. It's non-venomous, but aggressive and bites if threatened. It can be various shades of brown and grey, with black bands on the forward part of the body and square blotches on the back. It has a stout body, large head, and broad jaws. It sleeps and hibernates on land, but spends most of its active life in water. Usually restricting itself to a small area and eating fish, frogs, salamanders, crayfish, it's common in southern and central Ontario.

BROWN SNAKE

(Storeria dekayi)

9 to 13 inches

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This grey-brown snake has a dark blotch behind each one of its large eyes, a light stripe down its back, and a pale brown or pink belly with dark spots on each side. It lives in woods, clearings, farms, fields, and roadsides. Like the water snake, its home range is fairly small, usually a damp environment like a pile of rocks or wood. This harmless snake, which never attempts to bite, is common in southern Ontario and the Parry Sound district.

EASTERN MILK SNAKE

(Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)

24 to 35 inches

[Graph Not Transcribed]

Although named after a myth that it would get into barns and suck milk from cows, its mouth is not adapted to suck. Nearly the same diameter for its entire length, this snake is grey with red saddle-shaped blotches along its dorsal outlined in black, with a black checkered pattern along its white belly. A short, broad head is marked with a Y-shape. It lives in clearings, fields, farmlands, rural gardens, and the suburbs. A constrictor, it preys on young mice, often still in the nest, and other snakes. Although non-venomous, when frightened it makes a buzzing sound, vibrates its tail, and will bite. It's been seen as far north as Algoma and Sudbury.

EASTERN MASSASAUGA RATTLER

(Sistrurus catenatus catenatus)

18 to 30 inches

[Graph Not Transcribed]

This is Ontario's only venomous snake. Two pits, on each side of its face between the eye and the nostril, contain an organ that can sense warm-blooded prey in the dark. Unlike the round pupils of most harmless snakes, the massasauga rattler's pupils are vertical, usually a sign that a snake is venomous. Venom comes from glands in the head and passes through canals in the fangs. The snake can control the amount of venom it injects to subdue prey. Grey or brown with large dark blotches along its back, it has a black belly. The rattle is an inaccurate indication of the snake's age. A new segment is added with each skin shedding, which can happen many times a year. The sound made when a rattlesnake shakes its tail is caused by the segments rubbing together, but it won't always sound a warning before it bites, and it doesn't have to coil completely before it can strike. This snake lives around swamps and bogs and will swim. It preys on frogs and mice and will even eat dead or decaying food. It lives along Georgian Bay, the Bruce Peninsula, and on Manitoulin Island.

BLACK RAT SNAKE

(Elapheobsoleta elapheobsoleta)

42 to 72 inches

[Graph Not Transcribed]

This slender snake is Ontario's largest and one of three types of constrictors. It squeezes prey, usually rodents, birds, frogs, or other snakes, until breathing stops. Non-venomous, it vibrates its tail when nervous. As the name suggests, it's almost entirely black, except for a white belly, throat, and lips. Habitat includes woodlands, uplands away from water, and farm buildings. It's rare, but can be found along the east and west ends of Lake Ontario.

EASTERN FOX SNAKE

(Elaphe vulpina gloydi)

36 to 54 inches

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Named after its defence when threatened, this snake produces a secretion that smells like a fox. Rodents, amphibians, and earthworms form the majority of this constrictor's diet. Often found near water on human structures like boathouses, picnic tables, and docks or swimming between islands or across bays, this yellowish-brown snake with dark square blotches along its back, has been mistaken for the massasauga rattler. The fox snake is found in parts of southwestern Ontario and along southeastern Georgian Bay.

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