Snake Tales

You may have guessed that I find snakes fascinating. Not captive pet snakes, but all the many snakes of the world, venomous and non-venomous. They play a key role in the ecology of the planet and despite many different species being responsible for countless deaths of humans each year in various corners of the world, they are incredibly interesting and beneficial creatures.

I have been following Grant Smith, amateur herpetologist and qualified nature conservator who lives in South Africa, for the last year or so. If you sign up for his email list at his site “Cape Snake Conservation” you’ll get a very neat free ebook entitled, “Snakes.”

From his site, this is Grant’s mission, “Grant humbly hopes to change the perception many people have of snakes through awareness, education and practical advice and takes any opportunity to passionately share his love for snakes.” This is a man who lived in Thailand and South Africa and has embraced the redeeming qualities of snakes that most of us will never have to worry about.

While you may encounter dangerous snakes depending on what part of the world you live, for most of the folks here in Ontario, with the exception of the quickly disappearing Eastern Massasauga rattler, among the snakes we see are Eastern garter snakes, Northern brown snakes, Eastern milk snakes, blue racers, green smooth snakes, black rat snakes, Northern ringneck snakes, Eastern fox snakes, Eastern hognose snakes, Northern ribbon snakes, Northern redbelly snakes, Northern water snakes, Butler’s Garter Snakes and queen snakes. The timid massasauga rattlesnake is the only poisonous snake in Ontario.

When French explorer Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle landed at what is now Burlington, Ontario, he described it as “abundant with horrible rattlesnakes as thick as a man’s arm.” He was describing the massasauga’s bigger, more aggressive relative, the timber rattlesnake. Six feet long and readily willing to defend itself, the timber rattlesnake quickly made enemies with its new neighbors. By the end of the 19th century, organized gangs hunted them when they were at their most vulnerable — in their shared hibernation chambers. Although they are still common in the United States, the last timber rattlesnake found in Ontario was killed in 1941.

From his newspaper article a couple of years ago in the Toronto Star, Jerry Langton writes, “The massasauga has narrowly escaped the fate of its bad-boy brother by flying under our radar. Shy to a fault and favoring the kind of mosquito-infested wetlands that humans disdain, the massasauga usually escapes notice. These shy snakes prey on frogs and mice and are hunted by foxes and hawks. Only two humans have died from this rattlers’ bite, the last in 1940. For the most part, the people who get bitten are bothering the snakes — the snake feels threatened, so it has to defend itself. The rattle is usually enough to scare away any would-be attackers.” In fact, a hefty fine is in place should someone intentionally kill the massasauga rattlesnake; at one time it was $25,000, one year in jail, or both. I haven’t confirmed this has changed in the last couple of years since reading the article in newspaper.

Humans are encroaching on the massasauga rattler’s habitat, a chronic problem for many species in all parts of the world. In this case, with prices sky rocketing in popular cottage areas, developers have turned to less-desirable spots, often in prime rattlesnake habitat. Four populations survive in Ontario. Some remain in the Ojibway Plains park near Windsor and a few more in the peat quarries of the Wainfleet Bog in the Niagara Peninsula. More exist on the Bruce Penninsula and the cottage-strewn swath from Parry Sound to Peterborough. Many die crossing highways so fences have been erected to direct them under culverts. Humans need to intervene if rattlesnakes are to survive. As one of the experts interviewed for the article said, and we wholeheartedly agree, “The massasauga is an integral part of our shared heritage. To lose it would be like losing the loon. It wouldn’t be anywhere as rich.”

We hope everyone who encounters a snake, considers the fact that they are an important part of the rich diversity of the planet. Let them live their life. Try to embrace the idea of living harmoniously with nature. And if snakes are compromising the enjoyment of your home, hire a humane removal expert to relocate them. Keep the perimeter of your home foliage free and tall grasses clipped down, and remember that snakes’ prey includes frogs and mice. Mice sneak into dime-sized cracks and crevices at the house foundations, and snakes will follow.

Read the below link to learn some of the ways in which snakes, even dangerous ones, are beneficial:

Cape Snake Conservation

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