The Many Homes of Milksnakes
Or is that Milkshakes? Ontario is home to the Eastern Milksnake, a rather chocolate and caramel coloured snake, if you will. And right beside us here at the Toronto Zoo, is a small and secretive population of these critters. Throughout Ontario, Milksnakes can be found in open habitats like meadows and fields, often near structures like barns where they will seek shelter.
They may also seek shelter in old stone building foundations, especially in the winter. As the weather cools down, and food sources become scarce, snakes will locate an underground hiding spot to sleep until spring, but when that underground hiding spot is in your basement, they may not sleep so soundly. The heat from a house can keep the snakes active through the winter, where they can be found hanging out in the basement or looking for rodents to eat. It can be a blessing in disguise if you do in fact have a rodent issue, but for most people it is simply startling. Finding a snake in your house is usually a shock, but in the winter, when most animals are out of sight, hiding from the weather, it’s extra shocking.
So what should you do if you encounter a snake in your house in winter, you surely wouldn’t want to put it outside to freeze, but it probably can’t stay in your house either. The first thing to do is identify the snake. You can use the Adopt-A-Pond species guides to help you determine if it is indeed the Milksnake, or another of our local snakes. Keep in mind, almost all Ontario snakes are harmless, and our single Rattlesnake species has a small area of habitat where it is very unlikely to choose a basement as a hibernation spot. Once you have identified the snake, and are comfortable enough with it, you can attempt to contain it, by either gently picking it up and placing it in a bucket, or shooing it into a bucket or empty garbage pail with a broom. If the snake is in the basement, where it is cool, it can be very slow to get moving.
Once you have the snake safely in the bucket, call a wildlife rehabilitator, such as the Toronto Wildlife Centre and let them know what has happened. Since it is likely to be too cold to let the snake go outside, an authorized rehabilitator may keep the snake over the winter and release it in the spring. Of course, if you are perfectly content with your free rodent control, the snake would probably be more than happy to stick around and keep you company until the warm weather prompts its move back outside.
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