While temperatures continue to increase and the warmth begins to settle in to the land around us, this stirs up a reptile that always gets a bad rap: the snake. In particular, the Eastern Garter snake, is an important contributor to our ecosystems.
As you likely remember from your science class days, reptiles are not able to generate their own heat and that’s why our Education staff, Cathy Grant, found this nice specimen at Purple Woods Conservation Area as part of her operational responsibilities during COVID-19. That sunny patch was a perfect place to warm up. Unfortunately, so are roads, trails and sidewalks, so the Eastern Garter snake is often a casualty in our busy world.
They typically hibernate during the winter months in large groups under the ground—there is no physical distancing being practiced by this particular group of reptiles! They call their overwintering habitat a hibernaculum (pronounced hi-bur-nak-you-lum), and these often occur naturally in the old foundation of a barn or building or some sort of abandoned den of coyote or a fox.
Like our frogs and toads, spring is mating season for the Eastern Garter snake, with anticipation of delivery in the fall. What's unique about Eastern Garter snakes is that the female does not lay eggs, but gives birth to her young.
Want to find out more about Cathy’s discovery, check out this great article, The amazing but common snake of Ontario, by Ed Morris and Anna Sheppard, Ecologists with Ontario Parks, or check out this YouTube video on Nature Now with Chris Egnogo.
Curious question: Why do you think Cathy named the snake Sweet? We will give you a hint: It has to do with the trees at Purple Woods. Still can’t guess why? The trees are sugar maples. Still can’t guess why? What do you like to pour onto your pancakes for breakfast? Maple syrup! Sweet the snake is a very important part of the ecosystem at Purple Woods Conservation Area that gives us maple syrup.