Eastern foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi)
Species Status: Threatened in Canada
Action Required: Monitoring and research
Although eastern foxsnakes have proven to be adaptable when it comes to humans encroaching on their territory — for example, using sheds and other structures for shelter — increased development is putting this unique species at risk.
Growing to 91 to 137 centimetres long, the eastern foxsnake is the second largest snake in Ontario. It is often confused with other blotched snake species, including the Massasauga rattlesnake, due to its similar colouring. This species feeds on small mammals and birds. While it simply swallows baby mice, nestlings and bird eggs, these snakes squeeze larger prey to death before eating it. Although eastern foxsnakes are considered terrestrial, these reptiles not only live close to water, they frequently swim from one location to another.
Eastern foxsnakes use open habitats such as rock barrens and meadow marshes for foraging, mating and basking in the sun. They stick close to water and hibernate in cracks and crevices in the bedrock, often in groups. They will also use man-made features for hibernation, such as the foundations of buildings.
Eastern foxsnakes are found only in the Great Lakes region of North America, and approximately 70 per cent of their range is in Ontario. In Ontario, they occupy three separate regions along the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Eastern foxsnakes found in the Essex-Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk regions make up the Carolinian population, and those along the Georgian Bay represent the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population.
Being confined to a relatively thin strip along the shoreline makes eastern foxsnakes particularly vulnerable to habitat loss when new cottages go up. Because this species loves to swim, fatal run-ins with powerboats also contribute to declines in population. New roads in the area — which to snakes, seem like great places to sun — increase the number of deaths by vehicles and also fragment habitat. Meanwhile, many eastern foxsnakes are killed on sight due to an irrational but common fear of snakes or because they are mistaken for venomous species such as rattlesnakes.
Recommended Recovery Actions
The provincial Recovery Strategy calls for a number of conservation measures, including creating artificial nesting and hibernation sites, mapping habitat and corridors, monitoring eastern foxsnake populations and determining how much habitat is required to support a self-sustaining population in southwestern Ontario.
What we are doing
Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada is conserving Canada’s reptiles and amphibians, including eastern foxsnakes on the shores of Lake Erie .