The Eastern Foxsnake is one of Ontario’s largest snake species, reaching lengths of up to 1.7 metres. They have golden/brown colouring, large dark brown blotches that run dorsally across the length of the body, and smaller dark brown blotches that alternate laterally along the body. Juveniles often appear grey in colour but as they age they will turn golden/brown. Their head is often varied in colour from a red hue to brown depending on the individual, and a dark line runs from the eye to the jaw.
Eastern Foxsnakes prey primarily on small mammals (especially rodents), young birds and bird eggs. While they will swallow smaller prey whole, the Eastern Foxsnake is also a constrictor species, which means once captured they will wrap their bodies around large prey to suffocate them. They will either actively hunt for their prey, or ambush them by sitting and waiting. Juvenile Eastern Foxsnakes will eat frogs and insects until they are large enough to consume larger prey.
Biology and Behaviour:
Eastern Foxsnakes emerge from hibernation in mid April to late May and mate from late May to mid June. Males reach maturity at around 5 years old, whereas females will mature at around 3. Females can lay up to 30 eggs, but numbers are generally between 15 and 20. Eggs will hatch in 1-2 months and are generally 25-30 cm long. Eastern Foxsnakes will hibernate either communally or individually in rock crevices/fissures, animal burrows, or human structures such as septic bed tiles and building foundations. They will hibernate starting in either September or October until early spring.
Eastern Foxsnakes are fantastic swimmers and climbers which allows them to traverse coastlines with ease and hunt both terrestrial and aquatic prey. Eastern Fox-snakes are very docile, but when threatened they can release a foul smelling musk to deter predators, and may rattle their tail. Predators of this species include large birds of prey, domestic pets, fishers, and raccoons.
- Northern Watersnakes have banding instead of blotches along their sides, with much darker colouring
- Milksnakes have red blotches with distinct black outlining around them
- Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes have an upturned snout
- Massasauga Rattlesnakes have a blunt edged tail with a rattle, a triangular head, and are much smaller as adults
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The Eastern Foxsnake and their habitat are protected in both Canada and the United States. Further action is needed to help rehabilitate habitat and protect this species from mortality. Government, the public, and organizations should work together to reduce road mortalities by developing, implementing and evaluating mitigation measures for various human caused impacts and mortality, erect signage along known areas of high road mortality, and even encourage temporary road closures in protected areas during periods of known high mortality- especially in parks and protected areas. When it comes to habitat, more information is needed to better understand the extent of both Ontario populations, and how we can increase their habitat and quality. We need to develop habitat protection guidelines and work with landowners to protect and rehabilitate shorelines. Since snakes are generally a very misunderstood species, more education is needed such as citizen science programs, webinars, presentations, and demonstrations to help debunk snake myths and encourage cooperation and cohabitation with snake species.
COSEWIC. 2008. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Eastern Foxsnake Elaphe gloydi, Carolinian population and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii + 45 pp. (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/status_e.cfm).
Ontario Nature. N.d. Eastern Foxsnake. Retrieved from https://ontarionature.org/programs/community-science/reptile-amphibian-atlas/eastern-foxsnake/
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