On November 25, 2023, WRN Kids and some WRN Teens attended a presentation from Sciensational Sssnakes!!
Where was the outing?
At the Breithaupt Centre in Kitchener.
What was the weather like?
It was chilly and very sunny, but we were inside for this outing because it was too cold outside for our reptile visitors.
What did we do?
We had a presentation by “Sciensational Sssnakes”! Jenny and Alex taught us about the native species of snakes – and even some turtles – found here in Ontario. They let us meet lots of reptile friends and shared lots of reptile facts with all of us, and then we got to hold the snakes they brought with them!
What did we learn? Why is this important?
- We shouldn’t call snakes (or any reptiles!) cold blooded. Their blood is not cold, it can even be warmer than ours at times. Their body temperature depends on the environment around them. The scientific name to this is ECTOTHERM. So we should say that snakes are ectothermic, not cold blooded.
- Snakes aren’t slimy! A snake should be shiny looking, because it’s a sign that the snake is healthy – but shiny doesn’t mean slimy. People are more slimy than snakes, because we secrete oils. It’s also impossible to be allergic to a snake the way people can be allergic to cats and dogs.
- Ontario has many different snake species, but some are endangered such as the Gray Ratsnake, the Eastern Foxsnake, and the Eastern Massasauga. The only venomous snake we have in Ontario is the Massasauga, as the Timber Rattlesnake has been eradicated (gone) from Ontario since the 1940s. If an animal is endangered, they could become extinct – which means they’re gone from our world forever.
- Please leave wild animals alone! Animals have many different defence mechanisms to protect themselves from big scary predators, and humans are big and scary to these little snakes. For example, a Northern Watersnake will bite you; they have four rows of small, pointy teeth on the top of their mouth and two rows on the bottom, but the teeth are small and won’t hurt a human much. So they then pull away from the predator (human) and vomit (which is stinky, because they eat fish and frogs) and poop and pee all over the predator with great aim. This is yucky for the human, but also really stresses the snake out! Please leave wild animals in the wild.
- There are many risks to reptiles in Ontario. This includes roads (which are a perfect place to warm up after a big meal, which they need to digest the meal because they’re ectothermic), people killing snakes because they think they’re scary, habitat loss (such as the Gray Ratsnake losing its forests, where it needs the trees to live in), and pollution.
- There are ways to help turtles cross the roads, as they’re too slow crossing roads and often get hit by cars – especially during breeding season (late spring and early summer) and when the turtles are returning to their homes for brumation (hibernation: fall). If it’s a Snapping Turtle, for example, you can find a stick for it to snap on to then drag it off the road. If you can’t find a stick, you can even use a mat from your car. And if it’s any other type of turtle, just pick it up and move it off the road. BUT, make sure you place the turtle on the side of the road it was heading toward! Not the lake you saw back somewhere else or on the side of the road it had already come from, otherwise it will just try to cross again. They are crossing for a reason, such as to find a mate, or nesting spot, or returning home (as turtles return to the same home and nesting grounds each year).
- If you can save one mommy turtle, you are also saving the eggs she is carrying – so you are saving lots of lives, not just hers. Then those babies will have babies, and so on! All of Ontario’s turtles are at risk or endangered, and could be gone forever within 50 years. This will destroy many ecosystems.
- Snapping Turtles do not snap in the water! In the water, they’re the main predator so there’s no need to snap. On land, there are many predators that would like to eat them and they’re too big to hide in their shell like other turtle species. Their plastron (bottom shell) is too small, which also puts them at risk for being eaten by a predator. So they’ve had to create their own special defence mechanism, which is a hard strong beak that SNAPS at those trying to harm them. Ouch!
Snapping Turtles are a sign of a healthy ecosystem! You don’t want to swim in a pond or lake without Snapping Turtles present. Snapping Turtles won’t hurt you in the water, and they’re our natural garbage trucks! They eat carrion (dead animals), keeping the water clean from decaying animals.
- In Ontario, we have no invasive species of snakes! But we do have an invasive turtle species – the Red-Eared Slider. These turtles have become invasive all over the world, and live on every continent except Antarctica.
What was my favourite part?
My favourite part was getting to hold all the snakes!
Jenny and Alex brought a two-year old Burmese Python named Sunny, and she was so long! She was white and yellow with pink eyes, so she was an albino python. Albino pythons won’t survive in the wild because they can’t camouflage to catch their prey. Sunny was the first snake I got to hold that day, and she was so nice.
They also brought many Corn Snakes of so many beautiful colours! I loved getting to meet so many different Corn Snakes. I think all of us in the nature club got to hold a Corn Snake. They also brought a couple of Garter Snakes, which were super fast and were constantly on the move while being held. It was tricky holding one! I got to hold the Eastern Gartersnake, but they also brought a Red-sided Gartersnake (both species native to Ontario!).
I loved getting to hold some endangered snakes, such as a Ratsnake and a Foxsnake. Foxsnakes are one of my favourite snakes because they’re so gentle and docile. I think they’re just so cute and always so nice to hold. They really need our help in the wild, and I hope one day when I’m grown I can help them.
Another cool snake we got to meet and hold was a fully grown Sand Boa named Goliath! It’s funny, because he’s actually a small snake with a big name. His eyes are on top of his head, and his nose is a shovel shape to dig into the sand in Kenya so he can hide from predators. He felt really cool, and different than the other snakes brought.
I also liked holding the Hognose. These snakes are one of my favourites because they’re so silly! When feeling threatened, they trick predators by pretending they’re dead. They flip over onto their backs, stick out their tongues, and release a stinky musk. The Hognose Jenny and Alex brought was the biggest Hognose I’d met so far!
I can’t pick a favourite snake – I loved holding them all!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I love that we got to learn about and meet native species here in Ontario. I feel that it’s important to know about the nature in our own backyard, not just animals that live super far away. We have lots of cool animals that live here in Canada, and lots of them need our help. I’m happy we got to spend time with some of these animals that need our help, especially reptiles (my favourite animals). And the more we learn about our local wildlife, the less afraid people will be of these creatures – such as snakes. Just like Steve Irwin said, “If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. […] Because humans want to save things that they love.”
Reported by Sawyer