Province appears snake-bitten

Steve Bartlett
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Garters are persisting on the West Coast

Sightings of garter snakes in Newfoundland are increasing. — Submitted photo

The snakes on our plains? They may be here for good.The garter snakes first reported on the island’s southwest coast a few years ago seem to be settling and slithering in for the long haul.

“It sounds like right now they are persisting,” says Bruce Rodrigues, an ecologist with the provincial Department of Environment and Conservation.

“Perhaps they have a strong enough population to sustain them.”

Some people living in the St. David’s area of St. George’s Bay reported seeing garters in 2009.

In 2010, a pregnant snake was captured in the area and turned over to environment officials.

There have been more reports every year since, including one sighting 40 kilometres away from where they were first spotted.

The snakes could have arrived via an imported hay bale or with some other type of cargo.

It’s also possible the snakes were released in the area by mistake or on purpose.

Rodrigues points out there have been snake sightings on the island for years, but there were never enough snakes for a population to persist.

The recent mild winters may have changed that, he says.

“Snakes in the winter have to get below the frost line to survive. So we’ve had some milder winters, where the frost hasn’t been that deep and possibly has allowed them to persist. I guess if their population builds up to a high enough level, they can probably get over a very cold winter.”

Rodrigues says the while the population appears strong, the number of garters is likely low and there are too few to survey.

He asks the public to report garter snake sightings to his department so it can track the reptiles’ whereabouts and progress.

People shouldn’t be alarmed, Rodrigues says, because garters aren’t venomous to people.

“They do have some venom, but it’s just a very small dose. You’d have to have an allergic reaction to snakes to have any sort of effect from it.”

Put in bucket

But he warns these snakes, which can grow to a couple of feet in length, do have a defence mechanism, “where they actually smear you with a very foul-smelling substance.”

If one has to be removed from an area, he suggests using a stick to put it in a bucket.

While garters feed on a variety of common creatures — such as earth worms, frogs, ground nesting birds and rodents — Rodrigues notes there is a concern about one animal on its Newfoundland diet.

The meadow vole is the island’s only native small mammal.

“They live out in meadows, more of the open areas where you are more likely to find garter snakes. So they could potentially be feeling a little more pressure, predation pressure, from snakes.”

The Telegram contacted a number of people in the St. David’s area.

Each of them knew someone who had encountered a snake.

However, we were unable to connect with a person who had, in some way, been greeted by a garter.

Twitter: SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Department of Environment and Conservation

Geographic location: West Coast, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • gerry ogilvie
    August 22, 2013 - 10:11

    when I was in summer cadet camp in greenwood nova-scotia, I remember the kids from the rock were very excited to catch local garter snakes and quite a few were hidden in baggage for the trip home as they had no snakes in nfld. I saw this over several summers in the 1970's and can only assume that a few of the snakes survived the trip and were released into the wild. we have plenty more if you run low.

  • Wanda
    October 10, 2012 - 10:30

    Oh my, Rod, I'd put up with the snakes if they ate Earwigs. They are starting to come into my apartment building already, especially the bottom floor.

  • Rod Lyver
    October 09, 2012 - 22:14

    Do they eat earwigs??????

  • Leah
    October 09, 2012 - 17:42

    I am absolutely terrified of snakes, mice, and rats. From now on when I go for a walk in my cabin area, I won't be able to enjoy it so much knowing snakes are in Newfoundland.

  • Chris Butt
    October 09, 2012 - 14:54

    Snakes have just as much right to live on this island as we do, at lease they weren't introduced by the government to repopulate and ending up killing 1000's of people like the moose. Leave them be, how would like it if you went to a new province and they all tried to kill you. God created these creatures and remember THOU SHALL NOT KILL Snakes and reptiles are your friend.....

    • traveller
      October 10, 2012 - 07:48

      so you like the snake but dont like the moose? you do realize not a single moose was responsible for anyone of those "1000's" of people that got behind the wheel. Time to get of the fence.

  • Marcus Smith
    October 09, 2012 - 10:41

    Snakes, Cyotes, Wolves,realy nice summers... times they are a changing! Anyone who comes across a snake we would love to be notified at or find us on Facebook. Steve- we would love to hear from you

  • pat
    October 09, 2012 - 09:08

    Where is St.Patrick when we need him?? Legend tells us that hedrove the snakes out of Ireland.

    October 09, 2012 - 08:23

    For years I would say this is the best place to live because we don't have snakes, now where am I going to live, just reading the article my heart was pounding, my mind is going crazy trying to figure out what my options are, maybe a small island in Placentia Bay !!!!

    • Anne
      October 09, 2012 - 09:09

      to "I HATE SNAKES" let me know where you are going because I will be right behind you. I have been waiting forever to retire to NL because it is supposed to be reptile free. I can't even go to the online subscription to read it today because of the cover page.

    • snake handler
      June 23, 2016 - 10:20

      Please do not kill them. Garter snakes are small and harmless. And unless someone drops one down your drawers you are not likely to have an unpleasant experience with them. As for what they eat, aside from insects there are lots of non-native shrews, and now that the non-native toad population is booming, from the West Coast to Central, lots of baby toads too. There is plenty of room in our changing ecosystem for a small reptile.

  • Jan
    October 09, 2012 - 08:22

    If you see them, kill them! I am not afraid. I just don't want them here. I love our snake-free, skunk-free, status. Next thing someone will be wanting a fence to keep them away. And feed on "earth worms, frogs, ground nesting birds and rodents"? I don't want them preying on these creatures! If you see them, chop off their heads with a handy little ax; slice 'em in two with a shovel blade; put em in a deep bucket and deal with them any way you want as long as you kill them.

    • Greg
      October 09, 2012 - 09:26

      Why don't you leave them alone? If there really aren't that many animals to eat at the ground level, the chances are that aside from some predation, they won't have a huge effect on animal populations, and will likely decline as your winters bring them to heel, so to speak. Try not to be so violent... I seriously doubt the isle is about to become infested.

  • carogers
    October 09, 2012 - 08:01

    I knew there was a reason God had me born in the city, because I'd be still running. LOL

  • Jack
    October 09, 2012 - 07:58

    Because most of the snakes introduced to Newfoundland likely came from Nova Scotia, particularly Garter Snakes, perhaps now is the time for Marine Atlantic to check all trucks destined for the island for non native species that can wreck havoc on our ecosystem.

  • Steve
    October 09, 2012 - 07:33

    These snakes have been here for atleast 35 years. We used to find them in the grass by our cabin near Lamanche decades ago.

    • SEL
      June 21, 2016 - 20:14

      In Lamanche really?