Stettler resident learns about the positive role of garter snakes

Penny Tash was initially wary of the snakes, but came to see their important role in the environment

  • May. 8, 2020 11:30 a.m.

A few encounters with garter snakes has left a Stettler resident with a different understanding of their role in the environment.

“Some snakes had decided that my outside steps were a good pace to hibernate and evidently have been doing this for quite some time,” explained Penny Tash. “So when they started appearing this spring I was completely ‘freaked out’ and wanted them gone and done away with.

“Since then, I have been in touch with a lady from Wildlife Rescue who has educated me and told me how I can discourage the snakes from living under my steps and she also explained their life cycle and their value to the environment,” said Tash. “It is important not to kill them.

“There are people who will come and get them and deliver them to a safe location,” she said, adding that for more information about this, local residents can contact the Town office or they can call Tash directly about her experience at 403-742-4788.

According to Gwen Marshall, a wildlife specialist with the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, there are three garter snake species here in Alberta.

These consist of the Plains garter which has a bright orange down the middle of its back and mottled sides, the Red-Side garter which has a pale yellow stripe down the middle of its back and small red markings on the skin of its sides, and the Wandering garter which has a pale greyish brown back with little dark brown or black spots running down it.

Marshall explained that it’s during early to mid-April that the garter snakes wake up from hibernation and start appearing in groups near the entrance of their dens.

“These dens can contain hundreds of snakes in some well-established areas, though it is more common for there to be 10 to 30 snakes at any one location,” she said. On warms days, they will tend to go outside to enjoy the sun and form ‘mating’ balls with the males clustered around a female.

After this, they will often linger around the den for a few days, and then head into the countryside if the weather is agreeable, she said.

In the fall, the snakes start to head back to their dens. “They can travel as far as 30 km to return to their ‘hibernaculum’ of choice.

“Because hibernaculum sites are so important to garter snakes when it comes to surviving the winter, they are protected by law,” she said, adding that garters are listed as a protected species in Alberta and may not be harmed, possessed or killed.

“If a hibernaculum is in an inappropriate location, organizations such as the Medicine River Wildlife Centre or Alberta Fish and Wildlife may be contacted to assist.”

Marshall also pointed out that garter snakes are a valuable ‘indicator’ species as their presence and numbers show that the environment is healthy. They take care of a number of pests, too.

“They also prey upon small fishes and amphibians, worms, slugs, snails and for the larger snakes – small rodents.

“They are harmless to humans, and when confronted prefer to flee if at all possible,” she explained. “If grabbed, they excrete a foul smelling musk to try and convince the predator or human to let them go. Very rarely do they try to bite, and bites can only barely break human skin.”

Marshall said garter snake numbers have been going down for a number of years due to a number of environmental pressures. “But they are creatures worth protecting and admiring,” she said. “These small snakes just want to go about their lives, and with a bit of compassion we can all co-exist.”

Tash agreed, noting that there is a ditch behind her home which appears to be an attraction for the snakes.

“I’m trying to make people aware of the fact that they shouldn’t be killed, and that there are people who will come and get them,” she said.

“I’m also trying to make people aware that they are protected. I feel that people in town should know that,” she said, noting that many folks tend to panic when they see a snake, but garters, as mentioned, are harmless and have a positive impact on the environment. “Those are the two big things.”

To discourage the snakes from being near her home, she was instructed to get rid of tunnels under a planter that have been dug by moles and utilized by the snakes.

A bit of lining the area with wire will help, too. Not that Tash is afraid of the snakes. “I don’t like to be surprised by them but I’m not scared of snakes. I’ve held them – when I was in Australia there was a picture taken of me with a great big snake over my shoulders,” she recalled. “It didn’t bother me.

“Once you understand (them), you have a completely different feeling about them, too.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Ma & Paws Pet Supplies. Facebook/ Ma & Paws Pet Supplies.
Rimbey residents petition for dog park

Request for approval of dog park will be brought up at Tuesday Oct. 27 Town Council meeting.

The future site of the Rimbey Travel Centre. Web photo
New Rimbey development aims to capitalize on highway traffic

Phase I of the Rimbey Travel Centre would be along Hwy. 20, if approved

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

Most Read