Figure 1 – A neonate Northern Brownsnake. This little one was found during our artificial cover object surveys this fall.
It’s that time of year again. The Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery (OPRREC) team conducts road mortality surveys within the Ojibway Prairie Complex (OPC) throughout the field season, and fall is when we see the most reptiles dead on the road.
This year, with the help of other local organizations, we tried to establish temporary road closures on Matchette Rd. and Malden Rd. in an attempt to reduce the number of dead animals observed during the worst time of year for reptile road mortality (mid-September to late October). City of Windsor council members met September 9th and decided to delay the decision regarding temporary road closures, or other mitigation methods, until budget time in 2020. While not the ideal outcome, we hope that this shines a light on an important issue in this community and makes it easier to implement other mitigation methods in the future.
The temporary road closure that was proposed is not going happen this year, but it has led to a community-wide discussion about a topic most people don’t think about on a daily basis. This discussion has revealed some questions and comments from the public that we can provide clarification on.
Here are five comments we have received regarding reptile road mortality in the Ojibway Prairie Complex, and our responses.
(1) “Why did the snake cross the road?”
Humans have impacted wildlife in many ways, and in the case of the OPC, encroaching development and roads that travel through previously continuous habitat have left a fragmented environment which animals are required to navigate. For snakes and other reptiles travelling between their summer homes to their over-wintering sites this fall, this could mean crossing roads. Late summer and early fall is when most snake neonates (babies) are born. This means that the OPRREC team is seeing lots of young snakes during road mortality surveys (like the neonate Eastern Foxsnake in Figure 2). While we love seeing these cuties in the field, we also see many dead on the roads as they travel to their hibernation sites.
Figure 2 – A neonate (left) and an adult (right) Eastern Foxsnake found dead on the road during our road mortality study. The card in these images is the size of a credit card.
(2) “Can the numbers be believed?”
This is a frustrating question for anyone in this field to hear. We see a lot of dead wildlife during our road mortality surveys, enough for people to doubt if the numbers are real. This is an area that has multiple small fragmented pockets of habitat divided by roads that see over 9000 cars a day. We conduct biking road mortality surveys on these roads every other day for most of the season and try to be as meticulous as possible regarding data collection and species identification. In response to questions like this, we put together a map of 2015-2018 reptile road mortality observations. Every point on this map is a reptile that was seen on the road in our survey area. Each point, when clicked on, provides more detail about the observation.
(3) “I have never seen a dead snake on the road”
Sometimes snakes and other road kill are removed from the road by predators, weather, or it is destroyed by vehicles. In the case of the OPC, we remove any animal from the road that can be removed safely. This keeps scavengers safe from becoming road kill themselves and means that we don’t count an observation multiple times. So in some cases, if you are not seeing dead snakes on the road, it could be because we saw it first! The size of our local snake species may be another reason the average person doesn’t see them. Besides adult Eastern Foxsnakes (Pantherophis vulpinus) which can be over a meter long, most local snake species are relatively small. In Figure 2 you can see the size of both neonate and adult Eastern Foxsnakes. This time of year we also see a lot of younger, smaller snakes crossing the roads, and they can be very hard to see. The neonate Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomacculata occipitomaculata) in Figure 3 would be very hard to see from a car.
Figure 3 – A neonate Northern Red-bellied snake. It would be hard to see this little snake crossing the road while driving, don’t you think?
(4) “What are the alternatives to road closures?”
The proposed temporary road closure for Matchette and Malden roads would have involved “local traffic only” signs and would have remained open to local residents and businesses. This proposal was suggested as an emergency temporary fix to a larger problem. In the longer term, we would like to see more permanent solutions put in place. Eco-passages and permanent fencing along park boundaries have been suggested.
(5) “What can the average person do?”
What can the average person do to reduce the number of dead animals seen on these roads? Seems like a daunting problem to tackle, but there are a few things people can do to avoid negatively impacting wildlife populations in their area. Pay attention to Wildlife Crossing signs! Slow down while driving in these areas and look out for wildlife crossing the roads. If you see a snake or turtle crossing the road, help it cross in the direction it was travelling (if it is safe to do so). And, if you live in Windsor or LaSalle, you can avoid driving on Matchette and Malden roads despite the roads not being closed this fall. This area is very important habitat for the species that call it home, and we can easily avoid these roads by taking detours, even if a local traffic only sign is not present! The less we drive through the Ojibway Prairie Complex, the lower the negative impacts we will have on this ecosystem and the wildlife that lives here.
Lead Reptile Recovery Field Technician