Garter snake has most northerly range

Ontario has 15 species of snakes–more than any other province–but of these only one is poisonous. That is the Massasauga Rattler, which lives around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay so it is no threat to us at all.
Here in the north, we have, for all practical purposes, only one snake. That is the Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). There may be a couple of others which, at their most northerly, might be in the very southern parts of Algoma or Sudbury.
Our garter snake is quite small, ranging to about 30-40 inches in length (the largest on record was 54 inches). The basic colour may be olivey-green, brownish, or black. It also has three stripes all the way down its body, which may vary from yellowish to red.
The belly is yellow or green.
This little snake is found farther north than any other on the continent. In Ontario, it even lives up as far as James Bay. From there, its range includes most of the eastern half of the continent.
Garter snakes live on things you would expect–worms, snails, little frogs and toads, insects, and so on. But they also eat minnows and grubs of all kinds, and some of the bigger ones even will eat mice and birds’ eggs.
These reptiles hibernate during the winter. In the fall, they find suitable places–under rocks, manure piles, haystacks, caves, or hollows in the woods. There is a special place in Manitoba, near the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area, where thousands and thousands of these snakes winter over.
The area is composed of cave-like hollows under great limestone ridges. These were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, and are ideal places for the snakes to hibernate below the frost line.
Since there are so many in one place, commercial harvesters gathered multitudes of them each year. These snakes ended up in biology laboratories of schools and universities.
But taking numbers of this size each year posed a threat to the species so now the main pits have been off limits since 1982. However, there are still lots of garter snakes in the surrounding marshes.
In fact, Ducks Unlimited, in rehabilitating marshes across the country, inadvertently are maintaining a healthy population of lots of different species, including garter snakes.
Like most snakes, these little reptiles give birth to live young, perhaps 30-40 at a time which are a few inches long. No reproductive slouches, these! A female also has the ability to store sperm so she can use it later on.
A single female garter snake, placed in a totally new environment, has the ability to start a whole new population on her own. Since the sperm may be from several different males, she also carries the necessary genetic variations to keep the population healthy.
The Common Garter snake is our only snake. It can do us no possible harm and plays a significant part in the balance of nature. If you don’t feel like protecting and encouraging it, at least leave it alone.
It will go quietly about its own business–and you’ll hardly know it’s there.

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