timber rattlesnake
Photo by Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock.com

Rising temperatures could drive more venomous snakes to Canada

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The massasauga rattlesnake might not be the only venomous snake slithering through Ontario cottage country in decades to come.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute found that rising temperatures could drive several deadly snake species north. According to their research, which was recently published in the journal Climate Change, some snakes could cross the U.S. border, moving into Alberta, Quebec, and southern Ontario by 2050.

They also found that snakebite risk could increase in new regions, though researchers say their findings shouldn’t cause alarm among Canadians.

Only a few of the 75 snake species studied could make it across the border, one of the study’s authors told the Toronto Star. And although they’ll all possess deadly venom, they’re still classified as “low risk.” That’s because they’re the type of snakes that will try hard to stay out of the way, as opposed to those that are considered “aggressive” or “looking for trouble.”

Researchers used climate models to predict the range of each snake species. Of course how far the snakes travel—whether it be further north into Canada or down to cooler regions in South America—depends on how much the planet warms.

The study covered different scenarios for each species—one in which the world reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, and another in which it doesn’t, continuing to warm at its current rate. The study doesn’t, however, take into account other factors, like human impact or geographical barriers.

The venomous timber rattlesnake, which was once native to Ontario, is currently listed as Extirpated under the Ontario Endangered Species Act. The species now primarily resides in the Eastern United States. If the planet continues to warm at its current rate, researchers predict the rattlesnake could move into southern portions of Ontario and Quebec by 2050. In the best case scenario, the snake’s range will only move slightly north by that time.

“For snakes, much like other species, it is adapt or die,” Jeremy Kerr, professor of biology at the University of Ottawa, told the Star.

The concern, according to researchers, is that some snake species could struggle to reproduce or even relocate as temperatures rise, making it difficult to maintain their populations.

“I’m way more worried about snakes than humans,” Kerr said. “A lot of our snakes and other reptiles are endangered, and because people think snakes are icky or irrational.”

According to Kerr, snakes face greater risk from us than we do from them.

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