What is NOT happening at Narcisse? And why? Concern is growing about the well-being of the red-sided garter snake. By this time of year, the reptiles have usually come out of their dens north of Winnipeg and travelled out to their feeding grounds.

But thousands of the snakes have been found dead around the pits and very few live garters have come out of the dens.

clip: they may very well have succumbed to cold weather. They simply did not, were not able to get underneath the ground and underneath the frost layer and simply froze to death on the surface of the dens.

Ron Larche is a biologist with the Manitoba department of Natural Resources. He says biologists found as many as 5000 dead snakes when they entered the dens after the spring thaw. There are usually 65,000 snakes in the dens. Where the rest of them are is a mystery.

He says the snakes usually emerge during the first two weeks of May filling the pits with slithering snakes. But this year, there are only about one-sixtieth as many.

Larche says some of the carcasses have been sent for analysis. There's also a foul smell coming from one of the dens. The large number of flies in the area have Larche worried there are more dead snakes inside.

"We're quite concerned. Narcisse is an important denning area for snakes in Manitoba. It has three major dens that attracts visitors from all over the world," Larche says.

Larche says there were record numbers of snakes around last summer. He's hopeful the females gave birth to lots of babies. Those young snakes will return to the dens in the fall and Larche says he'll have a better idea of how many snakes have survived.