World Snake Day 2021

Today, June 16th, 2021 is World Snake day! Reptiles play a huge role in the health of our ecosystems around the world. In urbanized areas like southern Ontario, snakes  feed on small mammals like mice and rats, reducing the rodent pest population and in-turn reducing the spread of disease and crop damage. Not only are snakes critical predators in this aspect, they also play a critical role as prey for animals such as hawks and foxes. If this isn’t cool enough – snakes are also seed dispersers! By eating rodents, snakes also ingest the food inside the rodents such as seeds. The seeds can survive the digestive tract of the snake and be spread by their waste. Snakes are sssuper cool! 

The Adopt-A-Pond team collects information on local snakes in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP). Cover objects, like plywood boards, are often used to survey for snakes. These boards can be placed in snake habitat and become warmer than the surrounding area, attracting snakes to bask under or on top of the boards.  This spring in April and May, we did daily coverboard surveys near abandoned buildings to identify snake species emerging from their overwintering hibernacula. Throughout the summer, we monitor other artificial coverboard sites looking specifically for populations of Eastern Milksnake, a species at risk in Ontario and a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. We collect this data to identify their presence within RNUP, monitor long-term population trends, and identify seasonal habitat use.  

When a snake is caught by our field team, we take information on the habitat features and location as well as measurements of their body temperature, length, weight, any injuries, and for Eastern Milksnakes, we take a photograph of their head marking. Eastern Milksnakes can be identified individually by these head markings, similar to how a fingerprint is unique to a person. Once all the measurements are taken, they are released back into the habitat that they were found in. We make sure to handle these snakes safely, taking precautions such as wearing single use gloves and sanitizing equipment between snakes, to avoid the risk of spreading diseases between the animals.  

Additionally, the field team does road surveys each year which involves looking to save snakes and other wildlife on roads and report areas of high road mortality. This informs where mitigation, like animal crossing signs or ecopassages, should be installed to maximize the number of animals that will use it. For more information on this, check out our previous blog (link: https://adoptapond.wordpress.com/2021/02/09/__trashed-2/)!  

Overall snakes play a huge role in ecosystems and are very beneficial to the local environment. Unfortunately, they face a lot of stigma as dangerous and scary animals, however, this is not at all true. Here at Adopt-A-Pond, we have the privilege to work closely with snake species, and get to love and appreciate them as gentle and amazing creatures.  They most certainly do not deserve the treatment and stigma they receive. Instead, we should work to protect these species and help them both locally and provincially. 

Some easy ways to help snakes include: 

  • Don’t use chemicals like poison to control pest populations, as these poisons can cause negative side effects on any snakes (or other animals) that eat the rodents 
  • Don’t use sticky traps, which can trap more than your target species, including snakes. 
  • If you see a snake crossing the road, help it cross! Often, you can scare the snake across without picking it up. 
  • Be careful when mowing your lawn, as snakes could be hiding in the long grass. Look into no-mow May for more information!  
  • Create habitat on your property by providing natural spaces, like logs, rocks, or brush piles. By providing habitat for snake’s prey, like frogs, salamanders, rodents, or birds, you’re also providing habitat for snakes!  

We are so excited when we see snakes in our work and everyday lives, and we hope others can begin to share this excitement too!