Did you know that snakes play an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem? They help control rodent populations and also provide food for other predators. The snake gets a pretty bad rep. Most people think they are scary and dangerous. Here, at the Land between charity, we want to break these stereotypes because snakes are awesome!
All snakes in The Land Between bioregion, except a rare species on the Georgian Bay coast of the Massassauga Rattlesnake, are non-venomous.
Also, snakes have scales and scales do not generate bacteria- so snakes are relatively clean animals. Also snakes have very poor eyesight and therefore are unlikely to see you clearly unless you are very close to them. Instead they sense a presence through vibrations on their skin and they also smell through their tongues. If a snake was to sense you, it, being quite helpless (as it is very short and without legs or arms) would either attempt to blend in or will put on a good show to try to scare you off.
One snake, in particular, puts on quite a dramatic show to fool you into thinking they are venomous and scary; that is, the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos). Thus, we call her the Drama Queen of The Land Between. When this harmless snake feels threatened, it coils up, flattens its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood, inflates its body, hisses loudly and strikes, but always with a closed mouth. And if the snake is lucky enough to hit your leg with its mouth, it will feel like a soft “punt”. In fact this snake has only two large teeth at the very back of its mouth for holding on to toads. But, iIf this frightening display doesn’t scare the predator or person away, the snake rolls over and plays dead. She can even excrete blood and some foul smelling ooze from glands near her mouth to convince you she is “out of play”. Pretty impressive, right? That’s one clever snake! Unfortunately, they can be so successful at convincing humans that they are dangerous that they often are killed on the spot before the display is over.
This snake is non-venomous, has a thick body, wide head, and a slightly upturned and pointed snout. They can grow up to 1 meter long. As adults, these snakes vary greatly in colour from light brown, light grey, red, tan, greyish green, yellowish, and even solid dark grey or black. Regardless of colour, they will have a dark patch on their head behind each eye. It is difficult to identify these snakes by colour alone which is why the key ID feature of this snake is the distinct upturned snout hence the name hognose.
Unfortunately, the hognose snake is threatened. While it has not yet made the “endangered” list in Ontario, it is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to mitigate the threats. The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake was already listed as threatened when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008. Much of the historic habitat of the eastern hognose snake has been destroyed throughout The Land Between, due to agriculture and unprotected and un-restored shorelines. Much of the remaining habitat is under constant development pressure from these human land uses.
Here are some facts about the Eastern Hognose snake.
o Mostly found in areas with dry, sandy, or mixed sandy soils.
o Grassy fields; crop fields; woodland edges.
o When found along woodland edges, they are mostly found in thinly wooded pine and/or hardwood areas.
o Sometimes found near small bodies of water
o Mostly toads; typically swallow them live
o Frogs, various reptiles, small birds, small mammals, fish, salamanders, worms and insects.
o Juvenile ones eat mostly crickets and other small insects
o Breeds annually in spring and late summer
o Females lay between 7 and 37 eggs (average of 10 to 18 eggs).
o Eggs hatch 2 months later in September or November.
o Can grow as fast as two centimeters per month.
o Males usually take 18-24 months to reach maturity at 40 centimeters.
o Females reach maturity at around 45 centimeters after about 21 months.
o They can live up to 7 years in the wild.
o Mostly active during the summer (early April until October)
o Begin hibernation anywhere from early September into November.
o Hibernate underground below the frost line, often in burrows that they excavate in sandy soil
o Primarily habitat loss, fragmentation, and humans.
o Road mortality
o Prey to many animals (raccoons, opossums, foxes, hawks, other predatory birds)
o Preferred habitat is also preferred by humans for agriculture and waterfront recreation
What You Can Do
- Volunteer to be a Snake Supervisor with The Land Between! We offer online tools to teach you what to do and what not to do, how to report your findings to us, and we offer ongoing support with our team. If you are interested in helping. Registration Link
- Report a sighting to The Land Between by following this link to the “Report a Species” page: https://www.thelandbetween.ca/conservation-tools/report-a-rare-species/ or emailing CitizenScienceTLB@gmail.com
- Please don’t harm them. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Again, to put the danger of snakes in perspective: all of Ontario’s snakes are non-venomous, except for the very rare Massasauga.
- Watch out for snakes when you’re out on the road especially between May and October when they are most active.
Written by Nadia Pagliaro