Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Ontario's Smallest Snakes

Today’s post comes from Shane Smits, Senior Interpreter at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Are you afraid of snakes?

Do you think they are all big and scary?

Well, everyone has the right to have their own fears, but what if snakes aren’t all what the movies show them to be?

It is a common misconception that snakes are large, scary creatures. There are actually many species that are quite small and quite harmless.

Let’s look at some of the smaller snake species in Ontario, so we can change some minds about snakes:

Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

The smooth green snake is an inconspicuous species of snake. Its bright emerald green color and relatively small size help this species blend quite well into background vegetation and remain hidden.

The smooth green snake can be found in various habitats, from grasslands to wetlands and forests. Most commonly found in densely vegetated areas, this snake makes the most of its bright green color and avoids predation.

The smooth green snake is a slender-bodied snake that can grow to just 66 centimeters long. They are mostly in the range of 30 to 50 centimeters.

Smooth green snake in sand

Due to their size, they are not equipped to hunt larger animals, such as rodents and frogs. This species is insectivorous and feeds mainly on crickets, spiders, caterpillars and other invertebrates.

The Smooth Green Snake, among many others, lacks the fangs that inspire fear in many. Instead, they have small sandpaper-like teeth that are effective at grabbing their prey and ensuring that they cannot escape.

Female smooth green snakes lay between 2 and 11 eggs in late summer in rotting logs or other covered areas such as rocks or underground burrows.

Baby snakes measure between 9 and 16 centimeters long (about twice the length of the long edge of a credit card) and reach maturity in two years.

Northern ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus Edwardsii)

ring-necked snake

The northern ringneck snake is another of Ontario’s smallest snake species. They are a slender-bodied snake often measuring less than 50 centimeters (about half the length of a baseball bat) in length.

The ring-necked snake is easily distinguished from other Ontario snakes and is aptly named for the ring around its neck, usually a yellowish/cream color.

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The dorsal scales of this species vary from dark gray to brown and black and differ between individuals. The belly of the ring-necked snake is perhaps the most interesting part of the snake, as it is bright orange or yellow.

hands holding snake

The preferred habitat of ring-necked snakes is edge habitats or clearings in wooded areas. They are often found in areas with shallow bedrock and shallow soil depth. They often hide under bark, logs, or rocks to avoid predators and/or the heat on a particularly hot day.

Female ring-necked snakes lay their eggs (up to 10) in piles of vegetation, rotting logs, stumps or even under rocks, and take about two months to hatch.

When the eggs hatch, the young snakes have an average length of only 12 centimeters.

Young snakes will reach the age of maturity in two to three years.

Red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)

Red-bellied snake in a person's hand

Like the snakes mentioned above, the red-bellied snake is also one of the smallest snake species in Ontario, rarely exceeding 40 centimeters in length.

The red-bellied snake can be found in a variety of colors including brown, red, gray or black. They often have two dark stripes running parallel along their back and two more along the sides of their body.

The most fascinating part of the red-bellied snake is, in fact, where it gets its name: its bright red (sometimes orange or pink) belly. This unique feature stands out extremely well and in fact appears much brighter than it does in photographs when viewed with the naked eye!

Red-bellied snake on the sand.The red-bellied snake occupies a variety of habitats, from forest clearings to meadows and fields. This species seeks out these habitats and prefers areas with an abundance of logs, rocks, and other ground cover objects where it can remain out of sight.

The red-bellied snake is not only a small and non-scary species of snake, but they also like to stay well hidden. In fact, the red-bellied snake is actually a nocturnal species, so you’re even less likely to encounter it on your daily walk.

If you are someone who likes to garden or grow your own vegetables, the red-bellied snake might be a species you want to have around. They primarily feed on invertebrates such as insects, slugs, earthworms and more, all of which can interfere with the quality of your vegetable garden.

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Having the red-bellied snake around will keep these populations in check and also contribute to a healthy ecosystem!

The red-bellied snake breeds in spring and is an ovoviviparous species of snake, meaning that the eggs develop inside the mother until late summer, where 4 to 14 live young snakes are born.

Baby red-bellied snakes are quite small, usually measuring between 7 and 10 centimeters long.

It’s not so scary after all!

Many people have a paralyzing fear of snakes; In fact, fear of snakes is the second most common phobia on earth.

But as you can see now, not all snakes are large, menacing creatures.

Due to this common fear and hatred towards snakes, some may be careless regarding the life of a snake. The reality is that we need snakes and they are a key part of the ecosystem.

And the snakes need us too! Here in Ontario there are 17 species and subspecies of snakes, eight of which are listed as species at risk (SAR).

wildlife crossing sign

To ensure the longevity of our Ontario snake species, there are a few things you can do to help:

  • snake brake – Road mortality is a major threat to reptiles as they can be difficult to see and tend to freeze when cars pass by.
  • build a hibernaculum/protect habitat – Habitat loss is another big problem, so protecting available habitat and/or building new habitats (such as a hibernaculum) will give snakes a safe place to retreat.
  • report your sightings – help scientists and researchers obtain important data used for species conservation by reporting snake sightings on community science platforms, such as iNaturalist.

Did you gain a new appreciation for snakes?

Share this blog with your snake-shy friends so we can share the love!

Do not handle birds, mammals or reptiles unless you are helping to remove them safely from the road. The staff members pictured here are trained biologists engaged in professional research. These biologists follow a strict animal care protocol approved by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. These protocols review the desired outcome of the research and ensure that steps are taken to place the least amount of stress on the animal as possible. We ask that you always observe animals from a distance for your safety and that of the animal.