Species Profile

Eastern Foxsnake Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Pantherophis gloydi
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2008
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered


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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Foxsnake

Description

The Eastern Foxsnake is the second largest snake in Ontario; it typically reaches lengths of 91 to 137 cm. Males have a proportionately longer tail than females. Adults usually lack any distinct patterns or conspicuous markings on the head, and the coloration of the head varies from brown to reddish. The back is patterned with bold dark brown or black blotches on a yellowish background that alternate with smaller blotches on the sides. The ventral scales are most often yellow and are strongly checkered with black. The scales form a slight keel along the centre of the back. Juveniles have a lighter ground colour (commonly grey), lighter blotches edged in black, a line across the head between the eyes, and a dark line extending from the eye to the angle of the jaw on each side. The dark lines on the top of the head of the juveniles fade with age, and they are usually quite faint in adults.   In Ontario, the Eastern Foxsnake may be confused with several blotched snake species, including the massasauga. However, massasaugas can be distinguished by their darker ground coloration with lighter brown blotches and vertical eye pupil. (Updated 2009/04/24)

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Distribution and Population

The Eastern Foxsnake is found only in the Great Lakes region of North America. Approximately 70% of the species’ range is in Ontario, Canada, with relatively isolated locations in southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio in the United States. Within Ontario, the species’ distribution is highly disjunct, occupying three discrete regions along the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Eastern Foxsnakes in the Essex-Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk regions constitute the Carolinian population, and those further north, along the shores of Georgian Bay, constitute the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population.   There are no reliable estimates of population sizes and trends for the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, which is found in approximately 50 known locations. Habitat loss due to cottage development and the increased number of roads have likely led to a decrease in the population. (Updated 2009/04/24)

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Habitat

During the active season, Eastern Foxsnakes of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population mainly use open habitats along the shores of Georgian Bay, specifically rock barrens and meadow marshes. The species uses these habitats for foraging and mating and to thermoregulate. The Eastern Foxsnakes inhabiting this shoreline do not venture far inland, restricting the majority of their activity to within 150 m of the water. In addition, they move about primarily via the water. Indeed, rather than inhibiting the movement of this snake, which was considered terrestrial, water seems to facilitate and possibly promote movement. Eastern Foxsnakes in this region hibernate in fissures in the bedrock. Use of communal hibernacula would seem to be more common in the Georgian Bay region than in other regions. The number of Eastern Foxsnakes sharing a hibernaculum also seems to be higher in this region. Egg-laying sites located along Georgian Bay include rock crevices and composting vegetation piles. In this region, brush piles, root systems of living or downed trees, the base of common junipers, and rocky sites are used as basking and shelter sites. These rocky sites are often either table rocks with suitable gaps between the rock and the substrate or fissures in the bedrock that provide similar features. Anthropogenic refuse with favourable thermal and shelter properties is far less common in this region than in southwestern Ontario.   Because the Eastern Foxsnake is largely confined to habitats less than 100 m from the Georgian Bay shoreline, its habitat throughout the region is increasingly threatened by cottage and other recreational development. (Updated 2009/04/24)

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Biology

Emergence from winter hibernation generally occurs between mid-April and mid-May, mating occurs between late May and mid-June, and egg laying occurs between late June and mid-July. Within the one to four days spent sequestered at their egg-laying site, females lay 6 to 29 flexible-shelled white eggs. Incubation periods range from 50 to 65 days, and hatchlings emerge between late August and early October. Hatching occurs later in Georgian Bay than in southwestern Ontario. Retreat into hibernacula occurs in September or October. Several communal hibernacula have been located in the province; some of the hibernacula were being used by more than one species of snake. Predators of the Eastern Foxsnake include the larger birds of prey and mammals, such as raccoons and fishers. Small mammals and birds make up the bulk of the Eastern Foxsnake’s diet. Smaller prey items, such as neonatal mice, bird nestlings, and bird eggs, are simply seized and swallowed, whereas larger prey are killed by constriction first. Eastern Foxsnakes are able to adapt to limited anthropogenic disturbance, an example being their use of human-made structures for shelter during the summer despite high levels of human activity. (Updated 2009/04/24)

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Threats

The main threat to the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population comes from rapidly increasing recreational development along the Georgian Bay shoreline and on the shores of the islands in Georgian Bay. Because it is confined to a thin strip along the shoreline, this population is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss. The species’ habitat is undergoing increasing fragmentation as development creates zones that are uninhabitable. Housing developments, particularly in the southern part of the snakes’ range on the Georgian Bay shoreline, are also destroying their habitat.   Powerboat traffic is a cause of mortality of this excellent swimmer. In this region, the species swims long distances, often in cold, rough open water, where it is subject to mortality from increasing boat traffic.   Roads and traffic are another cause of mortality in this species. These snakes move relatively slowly and tend to become immobile when approached, so it is not surprising that road kills represent a major source of mortality. In addition to direct mortality, roads reduce the quality of the habitat, reduce snakes’ access to resources, and fragment habitats and populations.   Finally, persecution is another threat to the survival of this species. Many humans have an abhorrence of snakes and many Eastern Foxsnakes are killed on sight. The Eastern Foxsnake is often confused with venomous species, such as copperheads and rattlesnakes, and as a result is often the subject of irrational persecution. The illegal collection of Eastern Foxsnakes for the pet trade can also be a threat to the survival of this species. Because Eastern Foxsnakes often hibernate communally, Canadian populations could be significantly affected by indiscriminate collection of individuals as they emerge from hibernation. (Updated 2009/04/24)

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Foxsnake, Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In Ontario, the Eastern Foxsnake is afforded legal protection under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997, which prohibits the harassment, possession (without authorization) or killing of the species. It is also protected in Ontario under the province’s Endangered Species Act, 2007.   Eastern Foxsnakes in Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada are also protected under the Canada National Parks Act. (Updated 2009/04/24)

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi), Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Eastern Foxsnake Elaphe gloydi, Carolinian population and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, in Canada (2008)

    The Eastern Foxsnake commonly attains lengths of 91–137 cm. Adults usually lack any distinct patterns or conspicuous markings on the head, and head colouration varies from brown to reddish. The dorsum is patterned with bold, dark brown or black blotches on a yellowish background that alternate with smaller, dark blotches on the sides. The ventral scutes are most often yellow and strongly checkered with black. The scales are weakly keeled and the anal scale is divided. Juveniles have a lighter ground colour (commonly grey), lighter blotches bordered in black, a transverse line anterior to the eyes, and a dark line extending from the eye to angle of jaw on each side. The dark lines on the head of juveniles fade with age, and are usually quite faint in adults.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Eastern Foxsnake, Carolinian & Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations (2008)

    Eastern Foxsnake – Carolinian population The species was considered a single unit and designated Threatened in April 1999 and May 2000. Split into two populations in April 2008. The Carolinian population was designated Endangered in April 2008. Last assessment based on an update status report. Eastern Foxsnake – Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population The species was considered a single unit and designated Threatened in April 1999 and May 2000. Split into two populations in April 2008. The Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population was designated Endangered in April 2008. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Foxsnake, Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population (2008)

    In this region, the species swims long distances often in cold, rough open water where it is subject to mortality due to increasing boat traffic. It is uniquely vulnerable to habitat loss because it is confined to a thin strip of shoreline where it must compete with intense road development and habitat modification due to recreational activities. The species’ habitat is undergoing increasing fragmentation as development creates zones that are uninhabitable.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi), Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, in Canada (2017)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian population) and the Eastern Foxsnake (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population) (henceforth referred to as the Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations) and has prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. SARA section 44 allows the Ministers to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). A single document has been prepared to address the recovery of the two Eastern Foxsnake populations (Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence) under SARA. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (now the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) led the development of the attached recovery strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake Carolinian and Georgian Bay populations (Part 2) in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. In this federal addition, “Georgian Bay population” has been replaced by the term “Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population” because that is how the species is listed under SARA, and these terms may be used interchangeably. The Province of Ontario also led the development of the attached Government Response Statement (Part 3), which is the Ontario Government’s policy response to its provincial recovery strategy and summarizes the prioritized actions that the Ontario Government intends to take and support.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species (2009)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 20, 2009 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 19, 2010 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017