Staff at a wildlife rescue centre in Metro Vancouver have their hands full caring for about 500 garter snakes rescued from their winter den at a Delta, B.C., construction site.

Janelle VanderBeek, a co-ordinator at the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C., said she's never seen anything quite like it before.

On Wednesday, about a dozen snakes were dropped off at the associations's Burnaby Care Centre by a biologist, who had rescued them from a dike in Boundary Bay where they had been awoken from hibernation by construction crews.

Then on Thursday morning, staff arrived to find even more snakes on the doorstep.

"We got into the care centre in the morning, and we found the same biologist from the day before with about 350 snakes in buckets and bins waiting on our doorstep."

After counting them, staff realized they actually had about 500 garter snakes, including three different subspecies ranging in length from 10 cm to one metre.

"All of the snakes were examined and then placed in groups of 20 in plastic tubs with damp wood shavings and a dish of distilled water. Most of the snakes are healthy, but about a dozen are being treated for their injuries," said a statement on the centre's Facebook page.

'Hibernating' the snake way

VanderBeek said staff are now trying to keep the snakes cool until spring when they can be released.

"We're continuing their hibernation. We've got them in rubber bins. We're not feeding them anything, just giving them water and keeping them nice and cool."

She notes snake hibernation is actually called brumation. Instead of living off fat reserves like a hibernating bear, snakes reduce their energy use through the winter by allowing their body temperature to drop.

It is common for hundreds or even thousands of garter snakes to congregate in dens together for the winter. When they awake in the spring, they mate and disperse for the summer.

The snakes will be woken up when it's at least 14 degrees outside, said VanderBeek.

She said the centre normally receives only one or two snakes a year, and although staff have their hands full, they're enjoying it.

"They are actually really cute for snakes," she said.

Dike restoration unearthed den

A Delta resident first spotted the snake den in an area where dike restoration work was underway at Boundary Bay, according Delta's director of engineering Steven Lan.

"Because of that we secured the necessary environmental permits and approvals ... and ensured that the snakes were recovered ... as part of the work," said Lan.

Once the work is complete, the rocks moved for the work will be put back and the snakes will be brought back to the same spot in the spring, he said.

"The snakes will repopulate the area ...a nd basically  re-establish their den site," he said.

YouTube: Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba

With files from Farrah Merali