Species At Risk

Lake Erie Watersnake

(Nerodia sipedon insularum)


Lake Erie Watersnake
Lake Erie Watersnake occurrences map


The Lake Erie Watersnake is a large, non-venomous snake that is only found on a few islands in Lake Erie. As its name suggests, this snake is highly aquatic and rarely found far from the shoreline. It has a pale grey to dark brown body that may have a faint pattern of darker grey or brown bands. Females can reach over a metre in length.


The global distribution of the Lake Erie Watersnake is limited to islands in the western end of Lake Erie, including Pelee Island. There are no current population estimates, but it is believed the population has declined over the past few decades.


Lake Erie Watersnakes spend most of the day in or near the water hunting for amphibians and fish. This snake prefers rocky shorelines with good shrub and tree cover. The rocky beaches of the Lake Erie islands it inhabits provide abundant locations to bask in the sun as well as plentiful hiding places. During the fall, these snakes move a short distance inland to find suitable hibernation sites, called hibernacula. Watersnakes have been known to hibernate in a variety of different sites where they can get below the frost line, including abandoned quarries, deserted cisterns, and in rock crevices.


The most significant threats to the Lake Erie Watersnake are habitat loss due to shoreline development and alteration, and human persecution. Road mortality is also a serious threat for this species because snakes are slow moving, hard to see on the road and are sometimes intentionally run over.


The Lake Erie Watersnake is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. This species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Lake Erie Watersnake

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Lake Erie Watersnake. 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.
  • If you come across a snake, please don’t try to capture it, handle it or kill it. Snakes can be delicate and improper handling can cause serious injury. Also, certain species are protected under legislation, which makes it illegal to harass, harm or kill them. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • 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.
  • If you own lakefront property, maintain natural shorelines. You can enhance habitat by creating rock piles near the shoreline with good sun exposure where snakes can bask and hide.
  • Never buy snakes that have been caught in the wild and never buy a native species of any kind that’s being sold as a pet.
  • 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.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • 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?

TThe Lake Erie Watersnake is not venomous. The only venomous snake in Ontario is the Massassauga rattlesnake, which is a reclusive snake that would rather flee than bite.

Did you know?

Lake Erie Watersnakes can be a paler colour than watersnakes found elsewhere in Ontario. This is believed to be an adaptation that helps the snake camouflage on the pale limestone beaches characteristic of the islands it inhabits.

Did you know?

When handled, watersnakes tend to respond defensively and may bite and release a foul odour.

Did you know?

Watersnakes are well-adapted to life in the water and can dive to catch prey or to flee from predators.

Did you know?

Snakes not only shed their skin, they also shed the outer layer of their eyes! Instead of eyelids, snakes have a see-through protective cap that covers the eye, called a brille.

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.