This was one of thousands of red sided garter snakes we saw at the Narcisse Snake Dens yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the snakes were eager to come out of their dens.
We have visited the snakes almost every spring and fall for the last 4-5 years. My son is crazy about them. We’ve always seen snakes, but yesterday was the best viewing yet. Every one of the four dens was active. Here’s a look into one of the dens. There was so much movement, you could hear the rustling before you could see them. To really appreciate these pictures, click on the photos to get a good look at just how many snakes there are.
The snakes spend the winter in the dens. They haven’t eaten since October and yet, food is not on their mind. Mating is the predominant thought for males and females alike. The mating ritual is pretty spectacular. A bunch of male snakes wait outside of the dens for a lady snake to slither on out. When she does the males go crazy and surround her in a desperate attempt to be the one to mate (I’ll leave any similarities to human behaviour to your imagination!). This frenzy is called a mating ball in which there may be as many as 25 male snakes per female. Here are some mating balls we saw yesterday.
Once the mating is done, the female heads out in search of food. Only after she’s had sufficient food does fertilization occur. Isn’t that weird?! She can actually carry around the sperm for more than a year before fertilization. Another cool thing about our red sided garter snakes is that they give live birth. Most snakes lay eggs.
Ok, enough snake science. The really fun part is watching the kids pick up the snakes. Yes, picking up the snakes is permitted – as long as you don’t squeeze them, don’t touch any snakes in a mating ball, don’t carry snakes from one den to another and are kind and gentle with them. We were greeted by two MB gov’t Interpreters who explained all the rules.
Both my kids got a kick out of holding the snakes and observing their behaviour.
I love moments like these with my kids.