Monday, February 20, 2012

Wild Critters in Nova Scotia - Snakes

You might be wondering about the wildlife that lives here in Nova Scotia. Well, compared to other places we've lived there's not much. Certainly this area has been long settled by humans so the vast deer populations are no more. I thought we'd discuss some of the supposed menaces over the next week.

So let's begin with snakes.

Around the world there are approximately 125,000 fatal snake bites per year. But in North America the snakes are generally less venomous (poison injecting). Various rattle snakes, water moccasin, coral and copperheads are all natives of North America and pose a threat to humans, livestock and pets. But just how much of a risk? In all of North America there are approximately 8000 bites to humans by venomous snakes annually and of that number about .1% die, or 8 people. Why such a low number? Not every snake will inject venom, many will in fact give you a good chomp the first time to get you to clue in to what you're doing to tick the snake off. If you don't smarten up then they'll give you a second nastier and juicier shot. Some snakes are more poisonous than others...even within the same family. Rattle snakes vary widely in how much damage their venom will do. But besides the issue of the exact species of also depends on where you get bitten (closer to the heart or head is very bad) whereas a foot is better because you can slow the spread of the venom and give your body a chance to fight back. It also depends on if you're being given a glancing blow of a full on bite and injection of venom by a large snake. If you're a small person, child or pet then that's not as good as if you're a horse or a 250 lb man.

Either way, clearing your immediate home site of potentially deadly snakes is a good idea. Having them live out in the fields miles from the house is one thing...having nests in your woodpile or pasture is another. Why flirt with danger when you can just take care of the problem using the age old solution...bird shot. You don't have to worry about having the anti-venom if you don't get bit in the first place.

So, back to Nova Scotia. You'll be pleased to know that there are NO VENOMOUS SNAKES here. And in fact most snakes remain tiny, averaging a foot or so in length with 3 feet being the very largest for a few individuals. Certainly not the rattlers seen in the west. Yes, Alberta has the black widow spider, prairie rattle snake and even scorpions that are native. Nova Scotia has little grass snakes.

Venomous snakes abound the world over, but not here in Nova Scotia. Here's an identification of our local snakes courtesy of the Government of Nova Scotia.

The Garter Snake - common to all areas of Nova Scotia and widely distributed in Canada. We have the Maritime Garter in Nova Scotia. This little snake is brown with 2 lighter stripes down it's sides and averages 45-65 cm in length. Eats toads, worms, frogs, salamanders, fish and small birds. Found near water and hibernates from Sept. to Apr.

The Eastern Smooth Green Snake averages a foot to a foot and a half in length, eat spiders, snails, moths and other insects and are great tree climbers. This little green guy is commonly found on lawns and gardens in town as well as near water in the wild. They hibernate Oct. to late Apr.

The Norther Ringneck Snake has a yellowish band around his neck and a yellowish belly. They average only 25-35cm and eat salamanders, frogs, worms, insects and other small snakes. This woodland / wetland snake is active at night and hibernates from Sept. to mid May.

The Northern Redbelly Snake has an orange to red belly and a back in varying shades of grey, brown or black. The average size is 30 cm but occasional 90 cm snakes have been seen. They eat mainly slugs (I love this snake) and live in grassy areas near water. Active in evening, night and cloudy day times, they hibernate from Oct -Apr.

The Northern Ribbon Snake is black or brown and has 3 yellow stripes running down it's backand sides. Averaging a foot and a half to 2 feet long, this snake is easy to identify. It eats insects, spiders and amphibians and lives near quiet streams, pools and wet areas. They hibernate from Oct. to late Apr. and are active during the day.


  1. cool! didn't realize Canada had so many snakes, any of those in Southern Ontario?

  2. i have i ribbon snake what can i do to make him bigger

  3. Found the northern ribbon snake Columbia sc black And yellow color here about 16 inches or so we killed it just wondering how it would be here it venomous snake