Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The snakes of Ontario - part 4

Well, after a hiatus of more than a year and a half, I have finally decided to get around to posting the final few parts in my Snakes of Ontario series. Why post them now, you may ask? Several reasons, actually. First, we are in the depths of winter so I find writing about snakes far more enjoyable than watching snow falling on the 30+ cm that has already accumulated. Second, I haven't gone out birding for several days, and with no new blog material, this is worthwhile filler. Third, these posts are the most popular out of any posts I have made on my blog, so I figured I might as well finish the series.

Part 1 - Eastern Gartersnake, Dekay's Brownsnake, Northern Redbelly Snake, Northern Ribbonsnake
Part 2 - Northern Watersnake, Lake Erie Watersnake, Queensnake
Part 3 - Eastern Milksnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Part 4 - Northern Ring-necked Snake, Smooth Greensnake
Part 5 - Gray Ratsnake, Butler's Gartersnake
Part 6 - Blue Racer, Eastern Massasauga


Northern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsi)

The Northern Ring-necked Snake, despite its abundance in many areas of central Ontario, is one of the least familiar Ontario species to many people. The densest populations, or rather the areas where this species is relatively easy to locate, are found in the Bruce Peninsula, the shoreline of Georgian Bay north to about Sudbury, and southeast from here down to Kingston and Ottawa. Scattered populations occur in the southwest, though these are few and far between.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Waterloo Region

They are one of the few species of snakes that can be found in moist, shaded woodlands as most snakes prefer open or semi open areas. In Ontario while they can be found in the darkest of forests they are much easier to locate and occur in the greatest abundance near the edges of habitats where there are many flat rocks for thermo-regulation.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Muskoka District

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Muskoka District

Ring-necked Snakes certainly are specialists of fossorial living. You can see in these photos their long, flat head - ideal for poking in narrow crevices to find their preferred prey - Red-backed Salamanders. While in the northern Great Lakes Redbacks make up the majority of their diet, Ring-necked Snakes will also consume small snakes, earthworms, and other long slender organisms.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Bruce County

From above, Ring-necked Snakes are relatively nondescript, save for their yellow or orange ring around their neck. However on the underside it is a different story. In Ontario the ventrum is usually yellow or orange, and occasionally they have parallel rows of small black spots. Subspecies identification of this variable species throughout North America is often determined via the pattern and colour of the ventrum.

Northern Ringneck Snake - Bruce County

Most adult Ring-necked Snakes are relatively small, maxing out between 25 and 40 cm. However the occasional individual has been found quite a bit larger - up to 70 cm in total length.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Bruce County

Ring-necked Snakes are one of the most docile species native to Ontario. I can only recall one instance where one bit me, and the bite certainly wasn't very powerful (and definitely did not draw any blood)! This species is used to slurping down worms and salamanders - not exactly hard to subdue prey. Ring-necked Snakes are fairly adaptable to human-influenced habitats and for the moment appear to be stable in Ontario (unlike most species of native reptiles).

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Bruce County

Smooth Greensnake - Liochlorophis vernalis

Growing up in southern Ontario, this was the one species I wanted to see more than any other. By the age of 17 I had seen the majority of Ontario's snakes, but this green gem had eluded me. It wasn't until May 5, 2007 when I finally laid eyes on my first Smooth Greensnake, and what a specimen it was!!

Smooth Greensnake - Niagara Region

The mythical status of this species disappeared, but it still became one of my most wanted species and I have enjoyed many hours in the following few years searching it out. I have been somewhat successful in that matter, though to this date I have only seen 13 individuals in Ontario. Most Smooth Greensnakes have a scratch, or a few scales missing, or some other imperfection so I was quite happy to come across this "perfect" individual in the summer of 2010 on the Bruce Peninsula.

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce County

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce County

Smooth Greensnakes are unique among Ontario's snakes in that they are the only species that feeds predominately on insects. Most snake species consume small rodents, earthworms, frogs, fish, earthworms or salamanders, however the meals of choice for Greensnakes include crickets, hairless caterpillars, and grasshoppers.

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce County

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce County

If Northern Ring-necked Snakes are a non-imposing species, this one is even less so. I don't think you could make one open its mouth, much less attempt a bite, if you tried! Because of its beauty and docile nature, often they are caught in the wild and raised by captivity by amateur "herpers". Unfortunately this rarely ends well and most individuals die within a few weeks due to the difficulty in providing this finicky species with an ideal habitat and variable food source.

Smooth Greensnake - Norfolk County

Smooth Greensnake - Norfolk County

Smooth Greensnakes spend the majority of their time in green, grassy habitats, searching for their insect prey. Near impossible to see in this habitat, most of the ones I have discovered have been on the move across a different substrate between grassy habitats, or under small cover objects alongside fields early in the morning.

Smooth Greensnake - Muskoka District

Smooth Greensnakes are unique in that they have a very short incubation period. They do lay eggs, however the young are very far advanced in their development when the eggs are laid and often hatch within 1-2 weeks (most oviparous snakes lay eggs that hatch in 1-3 months). This short incubation period may be an adaptation to speed up development (by thermo-regulation through basking) since cool climates prevail over much of its breeding range. I was fortunately to come across a clutch of Smooth Green Snake eggs on August 9, 2009. I returned a few days later and was surprised to see several grayish neonates that had already hatched!

Smooth Greesnake eggs - Norfolk County

Smooth Greesnake eggs - Norfolk County

Stay tuned for the remaining two posts. Still to come are Black Ratsnake, Butler's Gartersnake, Blue Racer and Eastern Massasauga.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, I haven't seen many snakes other than garter snakes. I have seen one watersnake and two dead ring-neck snakes aside from the hundreds of garters.

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