15 surprising facts about Canada’s snakes

garter snake in Victoria BC Tim Zurowski/shutterstock

It may be surprising to learn that Canadian snakes are generally harmless. Only three deaths due to rattlesnake bites have ever been reported—the last one being more than 40 years ago.

Here are 15 more interesting facts about these incredible creatures.

  1. There are around 35 species of snakes in Canada, 26 of which are native. However, it’s predicted that the number of species will increase with climate change.
  2. You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than attacked by a snake. Less than a dozen snakebites per year are reported in Canada.
  3. Canada’s snakes survive winter by hibernating. Depending on the species and region, they may bury themselves under sandy soils, in bedrock fissures, within burrows, in hollow logs, or even, in some cases, within ant mounds.
  4. The largest gathering of snakes in the world (yes, that’s a thing) happens right here in Canada. Every year, tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes emerge from the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba to mate. The world-famous spectacle can be witnessed every May north of Winnipeg.
  5. Snakes can be found as far north as the 60th parallel. Manitoba isn’t the only place with snake pits. You can see emerging red-sided garter Snakes mate in Wood Buffalo National Park near Fort Smith, NWT in April and May.
  6. Some of Canada’s snake bear young live. While snakes often lay eggs, species such as the northern brownsnake, the Massasauga rattler, and the garter snake don’t. Instead, their eggs are incubated internally before hatching inside the female’s body.
  7. Female garter snakes can store sperm. They can use sperm from a single mating to fertilize eggs for up to five years. Indigenous to North America, garter snakes are the most common snakes in Canada. From coast to coast, they can be found in nearly every province and many different ecosystems.
  8. Snakes make their meals last. Garter snakes, for instance, will digest their food for 4-10 days. (It takes us 4-10 days)
  9. The Massasauga rattlesnake calls Ontario’s cottage country home. Primarily residing in eastern Georgian Bay, on the Bruce Peninsula and near the shores of the Great Lakes, it can be identified by its vertical cat-like pupils and the small rattle at the end of its tail. The species is under pressure from habitat loss, road mortality, and persecution by humans. In its Carolinian range the species is considered endangered, and in its Great Lakes-St. Lawrence range it is deemed threatened, meaning it is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to protect it.
  10. Not all of Canada’s snakes are small. The gray ratsnake, which is found in Ontario, can grow up to 2.5 metres in length. That makes it Canada’s largest.
  11. Newfoundland is the only Canadian province without any native snakes. But in recent years garter snakes, which may have arrived stowed away on hay bale shipments, have been found breeding in western Newfoundland.
  12. There are four types of venomous snakes in Canada. Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC and Ontario all have venomous snakes living within their borders.
  13. The desert nightsnake is considered the rarest snake in Canada. Only found in the southern Okanagan and the Lower Similkameen Valley of BC, as few as 50 individuals of this venomous species have been positively identified since 1980.
  14. The Prairie rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in the Canadian Prairies. Living in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, it warns off perceived predators by vibrating its rattle. It is not usually aggressive, and will try to escape if possible.
  15. All male snakes have two penises. And females, which are usually larger than the males have two oviducts.