Why you might be seeing more snakes on P.E.I.
They might look menacing, but there's no reason to fear snakes on P.E.I., wildlife biologist says
Seven-year-old Evan Smith got quite the surprise when he went inside the public washroom at Brackley Beach earlier this month.
Slithering along the concrete floor, its forked tongue flicking in and out, was an 80-centimetre garter snake.
"We were getting back into the car and he said he needed to use the restroom and he came back with a bit of a shocked look on his face," said Evan's father, Stuart Smith.
"I said, 'Did you use the restroom or not?' He was like, no because there was a snake that went under the door. I thought to check it out and lo and behold there was a little green snake hiding behind the trash can in the men's loo."
Garter snakes, red-bellied snakes and eastern smooth green snakes are the only species of snakes on P.E.I., said provincial wildlife biologist Garry Gregory. He said snakes are generally more visible this time of year as they congregate and prepare for communal hibernation.
Evan Smith saw this garter snake in the public washroom at Brackley Beach on P.E.I. (Submitted by Stuart Smith)
"This would be the time of year where you're seeing, you know, snakes en masse," he said.
"You'll get groups of them that hibernate together in burrows and underground crevices of various sorts."
Garter snakes most prevalent
Gregory said unlike some parts of western Canada where thousands of snakes may hibernate together over the winter, only groups of a dozen would come together on P.E.I. He said old abandoned foundations, where there are rock crevices below the frost line, are common places for snakes to hibernate.
Of the three species on P.E.I., garter snakes are the most prevalent. Their population, as well as the red-bellied snake, are secure, Gregory said, but not as much is known about the eastern smooth green snake.
For many years there were no documented sightings of the green snake, and in 2016 the province asked the public to inform wildlife officials of any sightings.
"We did successfully get a few observations of that species so we know they're still here. We don't know much about the distribution or their numbers, but they're much more scarce, much rarer on P.E.I.," Gregory said.
A bite from a garter snake, while somewhat painful, is completely harmless.— Garry Gregory
Gregory said though female garter snakes can grow up to a metre long, there is no reason to fear any of the snakes on P.E.I.
"Of those three species, only the garter snake would actually inflict a bite," he said. "In fact, green snakes — they're much more common in other provinces — people commonly handle them and they just will wrap around a finger and will not try to bite. That's about the same with the red-bellied snake."
He said a garter snake's bite feels like a "pinch" and is not venomous in any capacity.
"A bite from a garter snake, while somewhat painful, is completely harmless and benign," he said. "So there's nothing to fear in P.E.I. snake species."
And while young Evan Smith preferred not to share the men's bathroom with the garter snake, his father said the snake was "quite a friendly little fella."
"He was in no rush to go anywhere, just holed up inside the restroom."