Ontario Nature Blog
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© Lora Denis
If you asked people on the street about their greatest fear, many of them would say, snakes. In fact, snakes are one of the most common phobias amongst Canadians as cited by 33% of men and 46% of women.
This innate fear stems from popular myths and may be an evolutionary remnant from a time many millions of years ago when deadly reptiles dominated the environment. But snakes are docile and fascinating animals, and the real scary part is that several species in Ontario are at risk.
It can be quite startling to unknowingly approach a hidden snake. As solitary reptiles, they’re remarkable for their concealment and agility. However, behaviours considered “aggressive” by people, such as inflating and flattening their body, hissing, shaking their tail and biting (as a last resort), simply mean that snakes want to be left alone.
Snakes are a vital part of Ontario’s wild spaces. They ensure nature’s stability by eating insects and mice. Here are some other cool facts:
The myriad of snakes’ patterns and colours are spectacular to observe. As a kid, I always loved seeing the vivid yellow stripes of a gartersnake amongst the grass beside my house.
To help reduce fear, here are answers to some common questions regarding snakes in Ontario:
Ontario has 17 species and subspecies of snakes, and 9 of them are provincially at risk. The most common snakes in Ontario are the eastern gartersnake, Dekay’s brownsnake and the red-bellied snake, all of which are smaller in size. There are also two types of watersnakes that reside along shorelines and freshwater bodies: the northern watersnake and the Lake Erie watersnake.
In Ontario, there are three species of venomous snakes, but two of them are not harmful to humans. Only one snake species, the Massasauga rattlesnake, is considered potentially harmful to humans. However, their bites are extremely rare and only two people have died from them dating back to 40 years ago. This species is endangered and most common along the Bruce Peninsula and the shores of Georgian Bay. View our interactive maps to see where they are found in Ontario.
Watersnakes are harmless and will not bite unless they are provoked or captured.
You can consult Ontario Nature’s Reptiles and Amphibian Guide to learn more about the province’s unique snake species.
If you are interested in learning more about snakes and how to protect them, you can read about Ontario Nature’s Long Term Monitoring Protocol (LTMP). This protocol is used to collect baseline information on Ontario’s snakes to help monitor their populations over time and assess their conservation status. We are currently looking for volunteers to help monitor snakes at the Lost Bay Nature Reserve.
If you have any questions about the LTMP, you can contact our Conservation Science Coordinator, Brittney Vezina at email@example.com.
Interesting stuff. I agree that snakes are fascinating and deserve to be respected and protected. Thank you, Ontario Nature, for your snake monitoring fieldwork.
About rattlesnakes: I wonder if the Timber Rattlesnake could be reintroduced into those parts of Ontario where the species was once known to have lived?