| Apr 09, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 9, 2009 The Cobra in the GardenBy Wilma Kenny

Shaun Thompson with Black rat snake

"There are no poisonous snakes native to Eastern Ontario." Todd Norris and Shaun Thompson, MNR representatives, both reassured the large audience in the Verona Lions hall last week. However they said that several species, if threatened, will coil and vibrate the tip of their tails in dry leaves, leading to fears that they might be rattlesnakes. The eastern watersnake is heavy-bodied, sometimes has diamond-shaped markings, and will coil and strike if threatened on land, but it is not poisonous.

Introducing the discussion of "Snakes, Snappers and Skinks," Todd noted that the Frontenac Arch is home to over 30 species of reptiles and amphibians, several of which (including the black rat snake, milk snake, musk turtle, snapping turtle and western chorus frog) are listed as species at risk. These creatures’ existence is threatened by habitat loss due to shoreline development, infilling and roads, as well as road kills, pet trade and climate change.

The highlight of the evening came when Shaun pulled a five-foot black rat snake out of a flowered pillowcase. He said Highway 38 is almost the western limit of its range in Eastern Ontario. Although these snakes have often been killed because of their size, he said they are gentle, rather shy reptiles with a bite no worse than a scratch from a raspberry bush. Cupping his fingers around to hold several coils, he stressed the importance of holding a snake so that it feels secure, not in danger of falling. The evening ended with many audience members touching or even handling the snake.

A project titled Eastern Ontario Model Forest (EOMF) has produced some excellent pamphlets, one a checklist and another a species key for Eastern Ontario reptiles and amphibians. A third describes a project to develop an “atlas” of these creatures, based partly on sightings reported by residents of Eastern Ontario. Although Frontenac County is technically outside the boundary of the area being studied, they welcome information from this area. For more information, contact: them at PO Bag 2111, 10 Campus Drive, Kemptville, K0G 1J0, or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The evening was sponsored by Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Stewardship Councils, and the Friends of the Salmon River.

And the cobra? Last summer my garlic had grown tall, and I was on my knees weeding it when I came face-to-face with a cobra. Only after I landed several feet away with a thumping heart and an adrenalin overload did I remember having put a plastic cobra on the garlic bed that spring to discourage the starlings from twitching out the young garlic sprouts. The lack of poisonous snakes in E. Ontario is not the first thought that comes to mind when you meet a cobra in your garden. 

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