Jennifer Barden, lead OPRREC field technician (left) and Kaitlyn Hall, OPRREC field technician (right). Photo taken by Jordan Dertinger, OPRREC intern.

Q: It seems a hard career to get in to…any tips?
A: Passion for wildlife (especially herpetofauna) is definitely a must! Both Jenn and I have university degrees in zoology and environmental studies, respectively. However, it is not required for this position. A college diploma in a related field is also acceptable. If you are having difficulty obtaining a job in this field, volunteering is an excellent way to gain some valuable experience! We have had many volunteers assist with this project over the years. Contact the organization you are interested in working for and ask if they have any volunteer opportunities available. Some places of employment will actually hire their volunteers for paid positions after they gain experience. If you are a student, field courses related to herpetofauna that are offered by your institution’s biology department are also a great way to gain some knowledge and experience!

Q: What’s the best part of your jobs?
A: For us the best part of our jobs is definitely when we find a “massy”. Since the Ojibway population of Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes is endangered and critically small, whenever we find an individual from this population it is a unique and exciting experience. We also really enjoy working outside all day. It is rare that you get paid to do something you love and are also able to do it in the beautiful outdoors!

Q: How many kinds of rattlesnakes are there in Canada?
A: There are currently three species of rattlesnakes in Canada: the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus), and the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). There used to be a fourth species, the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), however, it has since been extirpated from Canada. The last confirmed observation was in Ontario in 1941.

Q: How many different species of snakes are there in Canada?
A: There are 25 species of snakes in Canada! Check out this link (http://canadianherpetology.ca/species/index.html) on the Canadian Herpetological Society’s website. It has a complete list of all of Canada’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as species profiles.

Q: Do snakes actually shed their skin?
A: Yes! Snakes typically shed their skin a few times during their active season (also known as ‘ecdysis’). They shed their skin in order to allow for new growth and to get rid of any parasites they might have. When a snake is about to shed it is very vulnerable to predators. This is because its eyes become cloudy which significantly hinders its vision. Snakes are typically more defensive during shedding, so if you do see a snake with a greyish appearance and pale blue eyes, make sure to leave it alone and give it lots of space so that it doesn’t feel threatened.

Q: Who would win in a fight between a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake and a Massasauga rattlesnake?
A: In order to determine this, we must compare their body shape and size. Northern Pacific (or Western) rattlesnakes can reach a length of up to 1.6 m. They are also of the genus Crotalus meaning that their heads are larger and triangular in shape. The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, on the other hand, is of the genus Sistrurus so their heads are much smaller and do not have a distinctive triangular shape. They also only reach a maximum length of 60-75 cm. We think that this larger head and body size would give the Northern Pacific rattlesnake an advantage in this hypothetical fight. Male rattlesnakes will fight each other when they are both interested in the same female mate. However, a fight between rattlesnakes is not as violent as you might think. They will typically wrestle with each other until one of them is pinned or topples over. They very rarely bite or even rattle at each other when fighting. The winner of these fights is mostly determined by size and strength, therefore, we presume that the Northern Pacific rattlesnake would win in a fight with a Massasauga.

Q: What other snakes besides the Northern Pacific rattlesnake and the Massasauga are ovoviviparous?
A: First off, for those who are unaware, ovoviviparous snakes are those that produce eggs which remain inside them until they are ready to hatch. When the embryos have fully developed, the female will give birth to live young. In Ontario, the following snakes are ovoviviparous:

  • Queensnake (Regina septemvittata)
  • Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus)
  • Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
  • Lake Erie Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum)
  • Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon)
  • Dekay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi)
  • Butler’s Gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri)
  • Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
  • Red-sided Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis)

For more information on the biology of Ontario’s snakes, visit Ontario Nature’s website: https://ontarionature.org/programs/citizen-science/reptile-amphibian-atlas/species/.

Jennifer and Kaitlyn