Species At Risk

Snakes and Lizards at Risk

Many snakes and Ontario's only lizard are endangered

When people think about our province's amazing wildlife, snakes and lizards don't usually come to mind. But Ontario's 17 kinds of snakes are a diverse and fascinating group. Some lay eggs, while others give birth to live young. Some live mostly in the water - others climb trees. Some mimic rattlesnakes to appear dangerous to potential predators, while others just play dead.

Sadly, 11 of Ontario's snake species are at risk of disappearing from Ontario. Many people try to kill snakes because they think the animals are dangerous - though only one very rare Ontario snake, the Massasauga rattler, is venomous. (Even then, Massasauga snakebites are extremely rare, and haven't caused a death in Ontario in more than 40 years.)

Snakes are also threatened by habitat loss when wetlands are drained or other development takes place. Many die when they're hit by cars on the road.

Snakes are an important part of Ontario's biodiversity. Although many people are afraid of snakes, they probably appreciate that these animals play an important role in rodent control, since many eat rats and mice.

Ontario is home to just one lizard, the common five-lined skink. Threatened by the destruction of its habitat due to agricultural and urban development, it's not "common" at all.

Check out the links below to learn more about Ontario's at-risk snakes and lizards, including how you can help protect them.

Snakes

Blue Racer
Blue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii)
endangered
The Blue Racer is among the most graceful and swiftest of Ontario’s snakes, though it only reaches a top speed of 12 to16 kilometres per hour. It is easily startled and will flee if threatened. It will also imitate a rattlesnake by vibrating the tip of its tail in leaf litter to produce a buzzing sound.
Butler's Gartersnake
Butler's Gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri)
endangered
The Butler's Gartersnake exhibits a peculiar behaviour called side-winding. When excited, it will vigorously wriggle from side to side, making little forward progress.
Eastern Foxsnake
Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi)
endangered (Carolinian population), threatened (Georgian Bay population)
If frightened, this harmless snake will mimic a rattlesnake by vibrating the tip of its tail in leaf litter to produce a buzzing noise.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
threatened
Unlike other snakes that tend to hibernate in groups, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake usually spends the winter months alone. It may hibernate in a pre-existing burrow or dig a burrow in the ground with its snout.
Eastern Ribbonsnake
Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus)
special concern
Many species of snakes lay eggs, but Eastern Ribbonsnakes give birth to live young.
Gray Ratsnake
Gray Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides)
Endangered (Carolinian population), Threatened (Frontenac Axis population)
This snake is an excellent climber and may be seen up a tree or bush sunning, preparing to shed its skin or hunting for prey.
Lake Erie Watersnake
Lake Erie Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum)
endangered
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.
Massasauga Rattlesnake
Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)
threatened
The Massasauga is very shy and prefers to hide or retreat from enemies rather than bite them. If threatened, it will shake its tail as a warning and strike only as a last resort to protect itself if it can not escape.
Milksnake
Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
special concern
The Milksnake got its name from the false belief that it takes milk from cows in barns, which it often inhabits. Milksnakes cannot drink milk, and are attracted to barns by the abundance of mice.
Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
extirpated
Individuals return to the same hibernation site year after year.
Queensnake
Queensnake (Regina septemvittata)
endangered
Queensnakes are excellent swimmers and can often be seen swimming and hunting underwater for their main food source – freshly-moulted crayfish. When freshly moulted, crayfish are soft, defenceless and easier to swallow. Ironically, during winter hibernation, crayfish turn the table and will eat juvenile and hibernating Queensnakes.

Lizard

Common Five-lined Skink
Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)
endangered (Carolinian population), special concern (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population)
When attacked by a potential predator, a skink's tail can "autotomize": spontaneously break off and thrash for several minutes, distracting the predator so the lizard can escape. The tail is able to grow back at a rate of about six millimetres a week.