Species At Risk

Eastern Ribbonsnake

(Thamnophis sauritus)

Special Concern

Eastern Ribbonsnake
Eastern Ribbonsnake occurrences map


The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a slender snake with three bright yellow stripes running down its back and sides, contrasting sharply with its black back. Eastern Ribbonsnakes have a white chin, whitish-yellow belly and a distinct white crescent in front of each eye that can be used to distinguish it from a gartersnake. Adults grow to about 70 centimetres long, and females are typically larger than males.

Eastern Ribbonsnakes are active during the day and feed primarily on amphibians, particularly frogs.

An adult female gives birth to between five and 12 live young in late summer. The newly born snakes are independent and begin hunting for insects to eat almost immediately.

Action we are taking:


The Eastern Ribbon Snake is found from southern Ontario west to Michigan and Wisconsin (isolated pockets), south to Illinois and Ohio, and east to New York State and Nova Scotia, where there is an isolated population. In Ontario, this snake occurs throughout southern and eastern Ontario and is locally common in parts of the Bruce Peninsula, Georgian Bay and eastern Ontario.


The Eastern Ribbonsnake is usually found close to water, especially in marshes, where it hunts for frogs and small fish. A good swimmer, it will dive in shallow water, especially if it is fleeing from a potential predator. At the onset of cold weather, these snakes congregate in underground burrows or rock crevices to hibernate together.


Although there is little historical data on the occurrence of this species in Ontario, it is likely that the Eastern Ribbonsnake has declined or even disappeared from many parts of southwestern Ontario due to the extensive loss of wetland and shoreline habitat in that region. The ongoing conversion of wetland to agricultural and urban uses, shoreline development and other habitat loss continues to be the main threat to this species in Ontario.

Other threats to the Eastern Ribbonsnake include declines in amphibian prey, persecution by people who mistakenly believe the species to be dangerous, road mortality, and predation by pets and subsidized predators.


The Eastern Ribbonsnake is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under these acts, a number of Ontario populations occur in national and provincial parks where they receive some habitat protection. The Planning Act protects provincially significant wetlands and gives some protection to Eastern Ribbonsnake habitat.

What You Can Do to Help the Eastern Ribbonsnake

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Eastern Ribbonsnake. The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas collects observations of all Ontario reptiles and amphibians. Submit your observations to either of these databases at nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/species/species_report.cfm and www.ontarionature.org/atlas. Photographs are important to help confirm the identification of species and are always helpful.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species at risk recovery.You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Watch for snakes that may be crossing roads between May and October. Road mortality is a serious threat to snakes because they are slow moving, hard to see on the road and are sometimes intentionally run over. If it is safe to do so, help snakes across the road in the direction they were headed.
  • Visit the Ontario reptile and Amphibian Atlas (www.ontarionature.org/atlas) or Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website (www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond) to learn more about Ontario’s rare snakes, their habitat and related conservation initiatives.

Did you know?

If a ribbonsnake is captured and handled roughly, it will attempt to escape by squirming wildly and exuding a foul smelling musk to entice its captor to release it.

Did you know?

Another more common Ontario species, the Eastern Gartersnake, has similar colours and markings to the Eastern Ribbonsnake, making identification in the field tricky. However, the white crescent-shaped marking in front of the eye can be used to quickly identify a ribbonsnake.

Did you know?

Many species of snakes lay eggs, but Eastern Ribbonsnakes give birth to live young.

Did you know?

Like all snakes, Eastern Ribbonsnakes swallow their food whole and can swallow an animal that is much larger than their own head.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.