Eric and Josh walking the perimeter fence with the Woolaver family looking for rattlesnakes and checking traps.
(Lance Woolaver, 2018.)

Good day to all and welcome to the Eastern Georgian Bay Massasauga Team’s last blog post of the year! The past month has been quite busy for both researchers and snakes here in Ontario; we have seen the translocation of our babies, the cleaning up of our snake lab, and a lot of data entry.

Lead project biologist Eric Jolin showing these future biologists a chilly eastern hog-nosed snake.           (Lance Woolaver, 2018)

After the summer ended we had the pleasure of showing Lance Woolaver, the new Executive Director of Wildlife Preservation Canada, and his family around the site to see some rattlesnakes and give the kids an idea of what we do. Unfortunately, the days were cooler than usual and the rattlesnakes refused to make an appearance. We were starting to lose hope on finding any snakes at all when we were lucky enough to find our second eastern hog-nosed snake of the year! Although the snake was a little cold, this meant he was easy to handle, with the kids getting some hands-on experience with one of Ontario’s most fascinating species at risk reptiles.

After our guests had departed, the weather of mid-September warmed up and the massies started their ingress (return to hibernacula) in full force. We ended up receiving almost a third of our known snakes in the next week, all of whom were returning to their hibernacula for their winter slumber.

While we were dealing with the incoming ingress we were also researching suitable hibernation sites to translocate our neonates. We ended up finding a wonderful site for them with luxurious moss hummocks fit for royalty (moss hummocks are mounds of moss that often grow under vegetative stalks and over root masses in wetlands). The moss hummocks had to be perfect for our babies; they needed to be large enough that they were above the water table, while at the same time having entry holes for the snakes to find their way to a suitable space within the hummock. This is how our massasauga rattlesnakes stay warm enough to successfully hibernate through the winter.

It was an amazing experience releasing the twenty-one neonates that we had raised over the last couple months into their new neighbourhood. We can rest easy with the knowledge that translocated neonates from past years have been repeatedly observed in their new hibernation sites, successfully overwintering at these sites over multiple years. At first, they looked surprised to be outside again but after we re-visited them a few days later, we had discovered that they had moved away from the initial hummock where we had planted them (but not too far). It looked like they were exploring their new home.

The past couple weeks have seen a temperature drop and lots of rain, so not many snakes have been found in our traps. Although the traps will remain open for another week or so, we have begun to transition to the less glamorous but equally important side of field research: office work. While the snakes rest safely inside their mossy winter homes, we will be kept busy entering, analyzing, and interpreting our data from the field season, with the hope that it can be used to help this species in the future.

We have uploaded a two-minute video of our first neonates getting translocated into their new homes. The video can be seen below. We hope that you all have a great winter and we look forward to sharing our field season with you next year.

Josh,Eric, and Julian.