Manitoba: The return of the snakes, Part 2

Five species of snakes breed in Manitoba. The red-sided garter snake has the largest range, is the most abundant and is the only species known to occupy large communal dens. Den sites include tree roots, shale cliffs, rock piles, sewers, foundations, animal burrows, rocky outcrops, and sinkholes. Dens contain from a few to over 10,000 snakes.

Mating ball: Annual mating ritual. Photo courtesy naturenorth.com

Red-sided garter snakes travel great distances every fall to return to their winter dens near Narcisse, Manitoba. Tens of thousands of these snakes migrate back to the limestone crevices that serve as winter homes, using what scientists believe are “scent trails” left by snakes travelling ahead. When fall rolls around, the central Interlake is inundated with these migratory snakes, reports the Winnipeg Free Press.

The fall migration back to the Narcisse Snake Dens is currently underway and will continue for a few more weeks. Good snake viewing should occur until at least the end of the first week in October. Sunny days are always best for snake viewing.

Image courtesy naturenorth.com

Highway 17 between Inwood and Narcisse is littered with the flattened bodies of snakes that were not lucky enough to make it across, the newspaper reported. Carcasses were literally everywhere.

Only two of the dens appeared to be active, with snakes slithering down the rocky edges into the pits. Most congregated together on the rocks to absorb the heat of the sun. Some of the snakes could be seen moving deeper into the dens, preparing for their winter of semi-hibernation.

The snake migration has caused problems in Inwood in the past. Last September, an Inwood seniors’ home, Inwood Manor, was infested with snakes on the return migration. Instead of going straight to their old dens, they decided to make the housing complex a new den.

Photo courtesy naturenorth.com

The Narcisse Snake Dens are 25 km/15 miles north of Inwood, on Highway 17. There are four snake dens in the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The dens were formed when underground water eroded the limestone rock of the area. This erosion caused the surface to collapse, creating a network of caverns and crevasses in the rock. This network extends well below the frost line, making it a perfect winter home for the red-sided garter snake.

In the fall, estimates of up to 50,000 snakes return to these dens resulting in the surrounding area being thick with snakes.

Worth Pondering…

There is magic in the air as August turns into September.

There is a ripening of the season as fruit trees grow heavy with red apples; leaves turn golden to reveal a harvest of pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and peppers in the field; and grape vines hang heavy with clusters of newly turned black and golden grapes.

Enjoy your days and love your life, because life is a journey to be savored.

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