Wednesday 13 February 2013

Snakes of Saskatchewan

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Snakes aren’t cuddly creatures, so we don’t tend to know a lot about them. Now is our chance to find out more about these sinuous reptiles.

See Also: Saskatchewan's Snakes (January 2020)

Year of the Snake
National Geographic has published an article that lists five parallels between the zodiac sign and the snake in real life.

For example, in the Chinese zodiac, the snake is the master seducer. Well, garter snakes do pretty well in real life too. When a female snake is ready to mate, she produces pheromones and any male snakes in her vicinity are attracted by her scent. They gather around the female in a large, wriggling “mating ball.” Mating balls can be relatively small, but in some places, like Manitoba, garter snakes travel to specific sites to mate and a mating ball can include thousands of males and only a hundred females.

Saskatchewan’s Snakes
Saskatchewan has nine different snakes, including three garter snakes and the western/prairie rattlesnake. All the snakes are carnivorous, eating everything from insects to rodents.

The western hog-nosed snake derives its name from the upturned tip of its snout, which enables it to dig for its dinner. It rolls on its back and plays “possum” when threatened.

Garter Snakes
Garter snakes can be found from one side of Canada to the other. There are garter snakes in the Northwest Territories but none in Newfoundland. They are generally found near water. Although they aren’t poisonous, some species will vibrate their tail against dry vegetation to imitate the sound made by rattlesnakes. If threatened, they release a foul smell from glands near the base of the tail.

Prairie Rattlesnake
The prairie rattlesnake is the only venomous snake on the Prairies and can be found in southwestern Saskatchewan, southeastern Alberta, and south-central British Columbia. Its range extends as far south as northern Mexico. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a ring is added to the string at the end of its tail. The rings knock together and make a rattling noise. The snake will shed its skin three to five times during its first summer and one to three times after that.

Garter Snake in Motion 
Here’s a short video of a garter snake wriggling its way to safety.

For more information: 
Year of the Snake: Serpent behind the Horoscope, National Geographic
Reptiles, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Diane Secoy
Garter Snakes of Canada, Simply Wild Canada
Fast Facts: Prairie Rattlesnake, Canadian Geographic

Nature Companion, a Comprehensive Nature App for Canada's Four Western Provinces