Friday, 5 September 2014

Ontario's prettiest snake

Despite living in the "Great White North", we are fortunate to have a variety of awesome snake species here in southern Ontario. While we don't have the diversity of places further south, our fifteen species of snakes in Ontario is certainly a lot higher than any other Canadian province. Some can be absolutely gorgeous - like the jet blacks of a melanistic Eastern Gartersnake, or the bold reds, coppers, and tans of an Eastern Milksnake, or the multitude of colors that Eastern Hognose Snakes can come in.Then there are Eastern Foxsnakes, Eastern Massasaugas and Ringneck Snakes....

One of my favorite Ontario snakes, and certainly one of the most beautiful, is the diminutive Smooth Greensnake. Found in grassy fields, alvars, rock barrens, and other open habitat types, Smooth Greensnakes are relatively common throughout south and central Ontario. Despite this they can be very difficult to find as their emerald coloration blends right in with their favorite habitat type - grasses. I am usually only fortunate in seeing a handful or so every year.

On Monday Laura and I celebrated labour day by driving north to a favorite locale of mine and working hard to try to find some snakes. We were hoping to locate Eastern Massasaugas as gravid females would have given birth by now. While we struck out with those, we did see a number of other cool herps,including Five-lined Skinks, Eastern Gartersnakes, a half dozen amphibian species, Midland Painted Turtles, and a Northern Ringneck Snake.

Northern Ringneck Snake

The highlight for us though were two Smooth Greensnakes that Laura managed to find. The first, an adult male, was under a small board around the perimeter of a junk pile less than an hour into our hike. It was Laura's first for Ontario, though she has found a few in her native Nova Scotia!

After a quick photo session we let the little guy on his way and continued our hike.

Smooth Greensnake

Several hours later, after cooling off in a nearby lake, Laura and I headed back to the car as the skies were threatening with rain. It had been hot and humid all day but a combination of the late afternoon clouds and a few raindrops cooled the air significantly. As we were walking along an open rock barren, Laura suddenly noticed a second Smooth Greensnake, this one crawling around in the open.

Smooth Greensnake

As you can see its camouflage was not as effective with this sort of substrate. Despite that, it would sway the anterior third of its body back and forth, likely mimicking a piece of grass blowing in the wind. Perhaps it would have been more successful in a grassy environment!

Smooth Greensnake

Tongue flick....

Smooth Greensnake

The Smooth Greensnake ended up being our last snake of the day, which had been quite successful despite striking out on rattlesnakes. A great way to spend a free afternoon!

Smooth Greensnake in habitat


  1. Wow! Those are truly amazing.

    Mike Baker

  2. The green snake is a beautiful little creature!

    1. One of Ontario's little known gems for sure...