Eastern Foxsnake Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population
Scientific Name: Pantherophis gloydi
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2008
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Image of Eastern Foxsnake
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Federal ProtectionThe 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.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
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 (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
Recovery Document Posting Plans
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