|Back to Home||Feature Article - August 2, 2012|
Live and let slither – Grey ratsnake talk in Veronaby Jeff Green
Photo: MNR biologist Kat Pitt with a 'Grey ratsnake.'
There were a number of people cowering at the rear of the Verona Lion's Hall during the final portion of a presentation on the Grey Ratsnake last Thursday night (July 26) by Tim Wood and Kate Pitt of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)
At the same time, a larger number, includes most of the young people at the talk, crowded around when Tim wood opened a blue plastic and pulled out a 6 foot long ratsnake, that immediately coiled itself around his arm.
The ratsnake is Canada's longest snake, with adults reaching 1.5 to 1.8 metres in length, and the Frontenac Axis population of Grey Ratsnake has just been placed on the Species at Risk list.
The MNR has renamed the snake, which has commonly known as the Black Ratsnake, because the Frontenac Axis population is genetically distinct from Black Ratsnakes in other locations.
According to Tim Wood, “biologists have come to the conclusion that the Ontario population warrants its own designation, and thus the name change to Grey Ratsnake.
The presentation in Verona was sponsored by the Frontenac Stewardship Council.
It had a dual purpose, to dispel myths and create an appreciation of the Grey Ratsnake, and to inform the public about the real implications of the species at risk designation on property owners in Central and South Frontenac, something that MNR officials have said was poorly handled when he designation was first publicized this past winter (as was reported in the Frontenac News – “With Friends like the MNR, the Ratsnake might not need enemies” February 9)
Gord Rodgers, who Chairs the Frontenac Stewardship Council, is also a fan of the grey Ratsnake, (unlike his wife, Barb, who was one of those hiding in the back of the Lion’s Hall when the Ratsnake made its appearance last Thursday night)
Rodgers had been planning an event to promote awareness of the Ratsnake in an effort to encourage people to appreciate its value and its role in the local ecosystem, and in the end the “species at risk” made it even more relevant.
Kate Pitt talked about the new habitat regulations in South and Central Frontenac, and Tay Valley, among other locations.
“A big component of the Endangered Species Act is stewardship,” she said, “and in addition threatened or endangered species are protected, and that protection includes habitat protection.”
There are three different categories of habitat regulations for the ratsnake. One category is for hibernating sites, which are generally located in rock crannies below the the frost line, and can be used for hundreds of years. Development is restricted to 150 metres from these site.
Permanent nesting sites carry a restriction of 20 metres.
The third designation deals with “areas within 1000 metres of an area being used that provides suitable foraging, thermoregulation, or hibernating conditions,” in the wording of the regulation. This designation can be seen to cover a huge swath of land.
Kate Pitt pointed out that this regulations is not designed to “prevent people from removing trees, putting up sheds, decks, barns, or houses. It is really about making sure that larger developments, such as commercial development or subdivision approvals take ratsnake habitat into consideration.
Tim Wood, who is the species at risk co-ordinator for the Leeds Grenville Stewardship Council, talked first about the passenger pigeon, once the most numerous bird in the world, but now extinct.
“That is why it is important to do monitoring and take measures before it becomes a race to save remnant populations,” Wood said.
It is particularly difficult to protect snakes, he said, “because not everyone likes snakes, and ratsnakes are large snakes. But they are harmless to humans, they feed on mice and other small rodents, so they are quite compatible with most human activity.
Woods had information about ratsnakes, as well as plans for a simple to build snake nesting structure.
“Part of the problem with the ratsnake is the fact they do no breed until they are almost 20 years old,” said Tim Wood, “and they are vulnerable to predators, particular when they shed their skin.”
One of the best ways to maintain the Frontenac Axis population is to leave old barns and sheds intact as long as they don’t pose a safety risk, according to Tim Wood.
The snakes also need to feed heavily during their short active season, April to November, to build up enough energy for the long winter.
“The more people know about these snakes, the more they seem to appreciate them, said Tim Wood, an opinion that was supported when the youngsters in the crown had an opportunity to see, and touch one.