Watchable Wildlife Manitoba

Red-sided Garter Snake

Red-sided Garter Snakes

Red-sided Garter Snakes
Photo by Robert R. Taylor
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The red-sided garter snake is one of several snake species in Manitoba, none of which is poisonous, but will strike if harassed. To survive our winters, snakes have to find shelter from the killing cold. This might be in limestone caverns like at Narcisse, or other shelters like animal burrows below the frost line.

As the red-sided garter snakes emerge from the winter dens at Narcisse the mating ritual begins. The best time to see this is the first warm days in May. After mating the snakes disperse to wetlands as much as 20 kilometres away where the females give birth to live young. They spend the summer hunting rodents then return to the dens in fall. As the weather changes the snakes go deep underground to spend the winter in a state called “brumation” where their body temperature is close to the surrounding air temperature in the caverns, about 4 degrees Celsius.

Narcisse WMA has the largest concentration of snakes in the world! Researchers estimate that as many as 70,000 snakes use these hibernacula.

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