In the News


Keeping snakes cozy

By MONTE SONNENBERG, SIMCOE REFORMER


Few people are speaking positively when they refer to a place being a "snake pit." Attitudes, however, are beginning to change. The Long Point Basin Land Trust is mounting a push to help endangered reptiles in the local area. Key to that campaign is getting local property owners to make habitat improvements that help snakes and turtles.
Over the past two years, this has included the construction of "hibernacula," which are special, man-made caverns in the ground where snakes can safely winter. To date, the land trust has built eight hibernacula in the local area and is on the lookout for suitable locations elsewhere.

"This is not a gaping hole in the ground," says Gregor Beck, a wildlife biologist with the land trust. "After a year, you should be able to walk by and not even know it is there. It can take snakes a while to find it. You have to be patient. We haven't had a lot of time with this to see results." A hibernaculum can not go just anywhere. Several important criteria have to be satisfied before the land trust will invest the time and manpower. A proper hibernaculum allows access below the frost line but above the water table. It needs to be near snake habitat and well away from roads. Clay soil is out of the question because of poor drainage.

Once a suitable location is identified, the land trust will dig a pit and pile in pieces of concrete and other materials that will create numerous crevices and chambers for snakes to lodge in. Beck says Norfolk's reptiles could use the help. Six of seven turtle species are deemed at risk, as are six of 12 snake species. The rarest snakes in the local area are the milk snake, the eastern fox snake, the grey rat snake and the hog-nosed snake. The rarest turtles are the spotted turtle and Blanding's turtle.

The land trust is also promoting habitat improvements for turtles to help improve their numbers. It can be as simple as planting an area of dense vegetation along the bank of an irrigation pond so they have a safe place to come ashore. Mounds of sand in the same location promote safe nesting and a higher rate of reproduction.
Turtles also gravitate to ponds that have logs anchored in place. These areas are attractive because they provide a safe place for turtles to sun themselves. LPBLT is shining the spotlight on local reptiles because their numbers appear to be declining at a rapid rate. The primary concern is road kill and habitat loss. Poaching is also a problem, especially as it relates to spotted turtles. Spotted turtles from the local area can occasionally be found in urban pet stores.
The land trust wants to get a better handle on local reptile numbers. They are asking anyone in Norfolk and Haldimand who spots a reptile to note a description of it, including size and markings, and file an account with the trust's website at www.longpointlandtrust.ca