By Jamie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
CODROY VALLEY – Snakes have never been native to Newfoundland and Labrador, unlike migratory woodland caribou, northern long-eared bats, or Arctic hares. While they are common in other Atlantic provinces, snakes are not an endemic species found here. However, over the past 13 years, common garter snakes have been discovered breeding in western Newfoundland, indicating that they were somehow introduced into the province’s ecosystem.
The first confirmed report of a snake in Newfoundland was a common garter snake found in the St. David’s area in 2010. A few more garter snakes were then spotted on the east coast near St. John’s in 2015. Although most reptiles can travel and survive nearly as far north as Newfoundland, the common garter snake is particularly hardy and can be found as far north as the southernmost part of the Northwest Territories. Despite not being native to the state, the Department of Fisheries, Forests and Agriculture (FFA) states that common garter snakes are not currently under threat.
Since at least 2010, a self-sustaining population of garter snakes has been known in the Bay St. George South area. The FFA receives regular reports of common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) and continues to track public sightings. These snakes generally do not pose a risk to people or pets. Most reports of garter snakes come from the Robinsons, St. David’s, and Maidstone areas of southwestern Newfoundland. Potential populations are also suspected in the Trout River, Middle Arm, and Deer Lake areas, as well as other areas like Cochrane Pond, Mount Pearl, Southlands, Holyrood, Virgin Arm, and Middle Arm. However, no known persistent wild populations exist, and the snakes found are believed to have either escaped from local pets or been accidentally imported in hay bales brought from outside the province.
Importing wild animals into the province without prior written permission from the department is prohibited under the Wildlife Act. Releasing any animal into its natural habitat or capturing and relocating the animal without written authorization is also prohibited. To gain a better understanding of the effects of non-native snakes on native species and ecosystems, as well as their distribution, population size, origins, and invasion routes on the island of Newfoundland, the department is collaborating with Laurentian University and Mount Allison University on a multi-year research project. Ph.D. students across the island are involved in studying these reports and engaging the public in the issue.
Recently, a resident named Harrison Bragg encountered a snake in Loch Leven on Tuesday, October 10. The snake was seen on the road and appeared to have been dragged along the asphalt. Bragg managed to photograph it, and based on his assumption, the species photographed is a sea garter snake, which can display a variety of colors, including brown, dark green, and black with three yellow stripes. Sea garter snakes can grow up to a meter in length and are typically found in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
Bragg, who hadn’t seen a snake since he was a kid, was surprised by the size and speed of the snake he encountered. He observed that the snake was about two and a half feet long. The FFA urges people to report any snake encounters, providing details such as photos (where available), the date, location, behavior, and GPS coordinates, if possible, for conservation officers to investigate.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Are snakes native to Newfoundland and Labrador?
A: No, snakes have never been native to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Q: How did common garter snakes end up in Newfoundland?
A: It is believed that the snakes were either accidentally imported in hay bales brought from outside the province or deliberately released by individuals.
Q: Are common garter snakes a threat to humans or pets?
A: Generally, common garter snakes do not pose a risk to people or pets.
Q: What should I do if I encounter a snake?
A: The Department of Fisheries, Forests and Agriculture encourages individuals to report any snake encounters, providing as much detail as possible, including photos, date, location, behavior, and GPS coordinates.
Q: Why is it prohibited to bring wild animals into the province without written permission?
A: Importing wild animals without prior written permission from the department is prohibited to protect native species and maintain ecosystem balance.
Q: Is there a known persistent wild population of garter snakes in Newfoundland?
A: No, there are no known persistent wild populations of garter snakes in Newfoundland. The snakes found are believed to have either escaped from local pets or been accidentally imported in hay bales.
Q: What research is being conducted regarding non-native snakes in Newfoundland?
A: The Department of Fisheries, Forests and Agriculture is collaborating with Laurentian University and Mount Allison University on a multi-year research project to study the effects of non-native snakes on native species and ecosystems, as well as their distribution, population size, origins, and invasion routes on the island of Newfoundland.