Eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in the Great Lakes: management plan 2015

Species at Risk Act
Management Plan Series

Eastern Ribbonsnake
Eastern Ribbonsnake

Document Information

Eastern Ribbonsnake
Cover illustration: © Gary Allen

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2015. Management Plan for the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Great Lakes population, in Canada. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series, Environment Canada, Ottawa, iv + 23 pp.

For copies of the management plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed species of special concern and are required to report on progress five years after the publication of the final document on the SAR Public Registry.

The Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population and has prepared this management plan as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Parks Canada Agency and with the Government of Ontario.

Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and Canadian society as a whole.

Implementation of this management plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.


Earlier drafts of this management plan were prepared by David Seburn of Seburn Ecological Services. Input from Mike Oldham, Robert Craig and Nicole Tuyten, (Natural Heritage Information Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) on the status and distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake is greatly appreciated. Bob Farmer (Dalhousie University), Scott Gillingwater (Upper Thames River Conservation Authority), Tara Imlay (Wildlife Preservation Canada), Fred Schueler (Bishops Mills Natural History Centre) and Adam Wilson (Long Point World Biosphere Reserve) all graciously answered questions regarding their research and/or knowledge on the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Brad Steinberg of Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario Parks) provided current information regarding ribbonsnakes in the Park and Brenda van Sleeuwen provided information on Nature Conservancy of Canada sites.  Development of this management plan was facilitated by Angela McConnell, Christina Rohe, Lee Voisin, Madeline Austen, Lesley Dunn, and Elizabeth Rezek (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario) along with Sylvain Giguere, Mark Dionne and Karine Picard (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Quebec). Contributions from Rhonda Donley, Susan Humphrey, Louis Gagnon and Tianna Burke (formerly with Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario)  as well as assistance from conservation data centers and herpetofunal atlas projects  are also greatly appreciated.

Acknowledgement and thanks is given to all other parties that provided advice and input used to help inform the development of this management plan including various Aboriginal organizations and individuals, individual citizens, and stakeholders who provided input and/or participated in consultation meetings.

Executive Summary

The Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Great Lakes population, is listed as Special Concern on both Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and under the Ontario Endangered Species Act 2007 (ESA 2007). The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a slender, striped snake, with a long tail that generally accounts for one-third of its total body length. It has an extensive range in eastern North America. In Canada, the species is separated into two populations. One population is limited to Ontario and a small area of Quebec (Great Lakes population), while the other is a disjunct population in Nova Scotia (Atlantic population).  This document focuses on the management of the Great Lakes population.

The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a semi-aquatic snake, and is most commonly associated with wetlands, streams, rivers and adjacent upland habitat. Its primary food source is frogs, although salamanders and small fish are also preyed upon. Females likely mature in their second or third summer and produce five to twelve live young in each breeding year. Although it is largely unknown how frequently female ribbonsnakes reproduce, based on observations of related species in Canada it seems likely that they reproduce every second year.

Identified limiting factors include insufficient understanding of the species' distribution and abundance, and threats to the species include habitat loss or degradation, road construction and associated mortality, persecution, reduced prey abundance and introduction of predatory fish.

The management objectives are: to conserve the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) and the habitat where it is known to occur; to gain a sufficient understanding of the distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) to better inform conservation efforts; and to mitigate known threats to this population in Canada. Broad strategies to help achieve these management objectives are outlined in Section 6.2 of this document.

A number of conservation measures to achieve the management objectives of this plan are proposed, none of which are expected to have any significant negative effect on the environment or other species.

1. COSEWICFootnote1Species Assessment Information

Date of Assessment:
November 2012
Common Name (population):
Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population
Scientific Name:
Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population
Special Concern
Reason for Designation:
The Great Lakes population is relatively widespread and appears to be locally abundant in a few sites. However, quantitative data are lacking on population size and trends, and most information is anecdotal and from protected areas. Wetland and shoreline habitat loss and road development continue at an alarming rate within their range and present a significant threat to the species. Unless those losses are reversed the species is at risk of becoming Threatened. Road mortality and habitat loss are widespread and much of the species' distribution occurs in pockets of habitat surrounded by agricultural land, roads and shoreline development.
Canadian Occurrence:
Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Status History:
Designated Special Concern in May 2002. Status re examined and confirmed in November 2012.

2. Species Status Information

The Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is endemicFootnote2 to eastern North America where four subspecies are recognized throughout the range. Only one subspecies, the Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis), is found in Canada (COSEWIC 2012). In this management plan, the subspecies occurring in Canada will simply be called Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, consistent with the common and scientific name in the COSEWIC assessment (COSEWIC 2012) and the current listing under Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).  

The rounded global rank of Eastern Ribbonsnake- Great Lakes Population (T. s. septentrionalis) is not yet ranked (TNR) (NatureServe 2013). In Canada, the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Great Lakes population is ranked as Nationally VulnerableFootnote3 (N3) (NatureServe 2013). In Ontario, the subnational rank is Vulnerable (S3) (NatureServe 2013). In Quebec, the subnational rank for the Great Lakes population is Critically Imperilled Footnote4 (S1) (NatureServe 2013).

The Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, is listed as Special ConcernFootnote5 on Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). It is also listed as Special ConcernFootnote6 in Ontario under the provincial Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). In Quebec, the Eastern Ribbonsnake is likely to be designated threatened or vulnerable and is listed under Schedule 2Footnote7 of the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.

The percentage of the global range of Eastern Ribbonsnake found in Canada is estimated to be less than 6.5%.

3.  Species Information

3.1 Species Description

The Eastern Ribbonsnake is dark brown to black and may have a velvety appearance as a result of strongly keeledFootnote8 scales (Smith 2002). There are three longitudinal yellow stripes that run along the length of its dark body: one on each side and one down the center of its back (mid-dorsal). Counting up from the snake's belly, the yellow stripe on each side occurs on scale rows three and four (Smith 2002). There is a brown stripe that occurs on side scale rows one and two and distinguishes the yellow side strip from the ventral (belly) scales (Smith 2002). The unmarked belly is best described as pale green, yellow or white, while the chin and throat are white to fawn-coloured (Smith 2002). The Eastern Ribbonsnake has a 'lizard-like' head that is separated from the body by a distinct 'neck' (Smith 2002). The total length of the adult Eastern Ribbonsnake ranges between 46 cm and 86.2 cm, and the tail accounts for approximately one-third of its total length (Smith 2002).

The species is similar in appearance to the more common and widespread Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) of Ontario and Quebec and the less common Threatened Butler's Gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri) of southwestern Ontario. Distinguishing characteristics include: 1) ribbonsnakes have white preocular scales (a white crescent-like marking in front of their eyes); 2) the position of the side stripe on ribbonsnakes is higher (on scale rows three and four) than on other Canadian species of gartersnake, whose yellow longitudinal stripes are on scale rows two and three, except for the longitudinal stripes of Butler's Gartersnake which extend to row four; 3) the tail in proportion to total body length is much longer on ribbonsnakes than gartersnakes (Hulse et al. 2001); and 4) ribbonsnakes are more slender than gartersnakes (Gilhen 1984; Ontario Nature 2012).

Courtship and mating generally take place in early spring, although fall mating may also occur (Harding 1997). In late July or August, gravid females (i.e., those with developing young) may move short distances away from water before giving birth to an average litter of 5 to 12 live young (Gilhen 1984; Harding 1997; Smith 2002). The young are generally 16 cm to 24 cm in total length, have the same colouration and pattern as their parents, and likely mature to adult size by their second or third summer (Harding 1997). A recent summary of the natural history, distribution and status of the snakes of Ontario, including the Eastern Ribbonsnake, is available in Rowell (2013).

3.2 Population and Distribution

Within North America, the Eastern Ribbonsnake (inclusive of all four subspecies) extends from Wisconsin east to southern Maine and Nova Scotia, and south discontinuously to southeastern Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and southern Florida (NatureServe 2013; Figure 1).

Figure 1. North American distribution of the four subspecies of Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) (Distribution range map adapted from IUCN 2010 and Conant and Collins 1998).

long description for figure 1 is provided below

Long Description for Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the North American distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and is divided into the following four subspecies: Blue-stripe; Common; Peninsula; and Northern (which is the only one found in Canada). The Northern subspecies distribution includes southern Ontario and neighbouring states and disjunct areas in Wisconsin, Maine and Nova Scotia. The Peninsula subspecies is located throughout Florida and southern Georgia. The Blue-stripe subspecies is located on the northern portion of the west coast of Florida. The Common subspecies is the widely distributed among the eastern states, from Louisiana northeast to New Hampshire, although the range is not continuous.

In Canada, the species occurs in two widely disjunct geographic regions and the populations are listed under Schedule 1 of SARA separately: Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, occurs in southern Ontario and QuebecFootnote9, and the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Atlantic population occurs in Nova Scotia. This management plan is specific to the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Great Lakes population.

The Great Lakes population extends from southwestern Ontario east to the Ottawa River, with just six sightings reported north of the Ottawa River in Quebec. Observations are largely concentrated along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, with the most frequent sightings occurring in the Georgian Bay region, particularly Bruce County (Smith 2002) (Figure 2). In Quebec, three snakes were observed in 2003 in Pontiac County, Outaouais region; these sightings represented the first three records of the species for this province (Desroches and Laparé 2004). In 2004, three snakes were found in the same area, and one on Île-du-Grand-Calumet, about 30 km to the northwest (Desroches and Laparé 2004; Figure 3)

Figure 2. Ontario sightings of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population (modified from Ontario Nature 2014).

long description for figure 2 is provided below

Long Description for Figure 2

Figure 2 shows Ontario sightings of the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Sightings are categorized as recent sightings (1994 to present) and historical sightings (before 1994). Sightings are scattered throughout southern Ontario with a number of observations on the Bruce Peninsula, along the north shore of Lake Erie, and a swath from Georgian Bay eastward to the Kingston area.

Figure 3. Quebec distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population (map adapted from Desroches and Laparé 2004). The dots represent the two areas where a total of six sightings have occurred.

long description for figure 3 is provided below

Long Description for Figure 3

Figure 3 shows observations of Eastern Ribbonsnake in Quebec. There are two areas noted along the Ottawa River, upstream of Ottawa/Gatineau.

Abundance information and population trends are unknown for the Great Lakes population. Also, given the high degree of similarity to gartersnakes (which are not at risk) misidentification of ribbonsnakes as gartersnakes may lead to those snakes being unreported because they are not at risk and considered common. Many ribbonsnake sightings submitted by non-professionals may be unreliable (Smith 2002). In Ontario and Quebec, however, the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) checks the validity of reported sightings and has identified and confirmed 273 element occurrencesFootnote10. Many of these occurrences are now considered historicalFootnote11 (NHIC 2012).

 3.3. Needs of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population

The Eastern Ribbonsnake is semi-aquatic and often found in areas with permanent water and adjacent terrestrial habitat (Harding 1997). During the active season (April through October), these aquatic habitats include open water habitats such as ponds or lakes, wetlands (e.g., marshes, fens, swamps, or bogs), or the flowing water of streams or rivers (Ernst and Barbour 1989; Harding 1997, Hulse et al. 2001). A study conducted in 1995 reported that 93% of Eastern Ribbonsnakes found in eastern Ontario were associated with aquatic habitats (Scribner and Weatherhead 1995), most commonly with habitats having shallow water and low, dense shoreline vegetation (Minton, 1972; COSEWIC 2002). In Quebec, Eastern Ribbonsnakes were also observed near wetlands on bare substrate such as gravel, cobble and boulders (Desroches and Leparé 2004). The adjacent terrestrial habitat generally includes open, sunny areas, especially where there are clumps of grasses or sedges and some low shrubbery (Harding 1997; Imlay 2009). Adjacent habitat can also include rocky hillsides and deciduous forests (Hulse et al. 2001). For example, in the vicinity of Hamilton, Ontario, Eastern Ribbonsnakes were often associated with areas of high forest cover and large swamps (Lamond 1994).

Like other reptiles, Eastern Ribbonsnakes are ectothermicFootnote12 and must rely on their surroundings in order to keep their body temperature at the preferred 20oC to 30oC range (Smith 2002). To help raise their body temperature, Eastern Ribbonsnakes will bask on emergent logs and hummocks or along shoreline habitat that is directly adjacent to the water. Ribbonsnakes will also climb onto low shrubs to bask in the sun (Harding 1997) and have been observed in bushes up to 2 metres off the ground (Carpenter 1952). Conversely, to lower body temperature and avoid overheating, the snakes may take refuge in cool water or under debris (e.g., rocks, logs) (Smith 2002).

Eastern Ribbonsnakes are primarily diurnalFootnote13, but may forage for food at night during the frog breeding season (Smith 2002). Amphibians, particularly frogs, are their primary food source (Carpenter 1952; Brown 1979; COSEWIC 2012). Eastern Ribbonsnakes likely target the younger, more abundant age classes of species such as the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens), Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans), and American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) (Brown 1979). Additional prey generally includes salamanders (Brown 1979), minnows and other small fish (Bell et al. 2007). Known predators of ribbonsnake include herons, hawks, Mink (Mustela vison), Raccoons (Procyon lotor), domestic pets, and predatory exoticFootnote14 fish (Harding 1997; Smith 2002).

In the fall, Eastern Ribbonsnakes move to their hibernaculaFootnote15, where they will hibernate underground either singly or in small groups (Carpenter 1953). Documented locations include ant mounds, vole tunnels (Carpenter 1953), and under a gravel path (Bell et al. 2007). Observations of ribbonsnakes in early spring and late fall suggest that they may also hibernate underground in areas of fractured slate, although this has not been confirmed (Todd 2007). Hibernation sites may be close to the water table, allowing snakes to partially submerge during overwintering (Todd 2007) and preventing both freezing and dehydration.

In Nova Scotia, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Atlantic population, individuals were found up to 400 m from wetlands during early spring and fall, and home ranges of adults varied from 1,790 ha and 7,784 ha (Imlay 2009). A population density of up to 40 adult snakes per hectare was estimated for one sub-population in Nova Scotia (Todd 2007). If this estimate is reliable and typical of abundant sub-populations, then it is possible that Eastern Ribbonsnakes are a significant component of some ecosystems. Currently, there are no available studies on the home range of individuals from the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Ontario or Quebec.

3.4 Limiting Factors

As with all northern reptiles, temperature limits the Eastern Ribbonsnakes' distribution (COSEWIC 2012). Other limitations may be the relatively small clutch sizes ribbonsnakes have when compared to closely related and more successful species such as gartersnakes. Lastly, ribbonsnakes may be limited by their primary food source; amphibian populations are in decline and this may have serious consequences for ribbonsnake populations (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2009).

4. Threats

4.1 Threat AssessmentFootnote16

Table 1.Threat Assessment Table
Threat Category Threat Level of Concern Footnotea Extent Occurrence Frequency Severity Footnoteb Causal Certainty Footnotec
Habitat Loss or Degradation Loss or degradation of wetland habitat, through development and agricultural land use High Widespread Current Continuous High High
Habitat Loss or Degradation Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation, through agricultural land use and shoreline development and hardening High Widespread Current Continuous Unknown Unknown
Habitat Loss or Degradation Road construction and associated road mortality Medium-High Widespread Current Seasonal (Spring – Fall) High Medium
Disturbance or Harm Persecution Low-Medium Unknown Unknown Seasonal (Spring – Fall) Unknown Medium
Changes in Ecological Dynamics Reduced prey abundance Medm Unknown Unknown Unknown Medium Low
Invasive or Introduced Species/Genome Introduction of predatory fish that reduce prey populations Low Unknown Current/  Anticipated Unknown Unknown Low

4.2 Description of Threats

Loss or degradation of wetland habitat through development and agricultural land use

Loss of habitat or degradation of habitat quality significantly threatens both the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and its prey (COSEWIC 2012). By 2002, the wetland area in southern Ontario was estimated to have been reduced by 72% of the total pre-settlement levels due to human alterations (Ducks Unlimited Canada 2010) such as infilling of wetlands for development or agricultural land. Human alterations adjacent to aquatic habitat could also result in increased distances and/or barriers to snake movement between wetlands or between hibernacula sites.  These alterations also increase the risk of interactions with people and domestic pets in addition to increasing the potential for road mortality. Human alterations have the potential to affect the hydrology of the area causing changes to water levels and seasonal water flow. This is of particular concern as it can change the suitability of the vegetation structure for the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Eastern Ribbonsnakes occupy and depend on the availability and quality of wetland habitats. A lack of sufficient data prevents any quantitative assessment of this factor as a threat to the population. Since ribbonsnakes depend on the availability of aquatic habitats, the loss or degradation of shoreline and wetland habitat will inevitably result in population decline and even local extirpation, depending on the magnitude of habitat loss. For example, ribbonsnakes are now rare in southwestern Ontario, where wetland and shoreline destruction has been extensive (Joe Crowley pers. comm. 2014). Conversely, this species remains relatively common in areas such as the Bruce Peninsula, eastern Georgian Bay and the Frontenac Arch where wetlands and shorelines largely remain in a natural state (Joe Crowley pers. comm. 2014).

Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation through agricultural land use and shoreline development and hardening

The preferred habitat of the Eastern Ribbonsnake is a mosaic of permanent water, riparian vegetation and adjacent terrestrial habitat. The loss or degradation of the riparian or terrestrial vegetation increases predation risk by reducing available cover, reduces the availability of suitable sites for thermoregulation, and likely reduces prey abundance and availability (Bell et al. 2007).

Road construction and associated road mortality

Most of Ontario's reptile and amphibian diversity occurs in southern Ontario, where road density is among the highest in Canada (Ontario Nature 2012). Habitat fragmented by roadways often results in reptile and amphibian species either using the road side itself (e.g., as a thermoregulation site or nesting site) or crossing the road to make use of the habitat on the other side (e.g., foraging, breeding, nesting and overwintering) (Ashley and Robinson 1996). The Eastern Ribbonsnake has been frequently observed on roadways, especially where roadways are bisecting shorelines or wetland habitat (COSEWIC 2012).

As an example, in 1990, a total of 24 Eastern Ribbonsnakes were found dead on roads in and around Bruce Peninsula National Park (Schueler pers. comm. 2009) and on a single day in April 2008, twelve Ribbonsnakes were found dead along a road near Cambridge (Gillingwater pers. comm. 2009). In the fall of 2001, over 200 snakes were found dead on roads within Rondeau Provincial Park, 50 of which were Eastern Ribbonsnakes (Smith 2002; Gillingwater pers. comm. 2009). Although considered to be a sizable mortality event, the road mortality at Rondeau Provincial Park was not an isolated incident, as an additional 42 Eastern Ribbonsnakes were found dead on the Park's roads in 2005 (Farmer 2007). Over half of these snakes were found during the late summer and fall months (Farmer pers. comm. 2009), suggesting the snakes were migrating to hibernation sites.


Although it is unclear how significant a threat human persecutionFootnote17 is to the Eastern Ribbonsnake, discriminate killing can be a significant source of mortality for some snake species. An Ontario study found that a small percentage (2.7%) of drivers will intentionally run over amphibians and reptiles on the road (Ashley et al. 2007). 

Reduced prey abundance

Eastern Ribbonsnakes feed primarily on amphibians, particularly frogs. Growing concern over global amphibian (e.g., frogs, toads, newts and salamanders) declines has led to the suggestion that a decreasing amphibian population could pose a threat (i.e., reduced prey availability and abundance) to the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Lesbarreres et al. 2014, Harding 1997, Smith 2002). In Ontario, amphibian declines over the last several decades have been observed for the following species, some of which are designated as species at risk: Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris), Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2009).  

Introduction of predatory fish that reduce prey populations

The introduction of predatory fish into areas where ribbonsnakes are known to occur is a concern. The introduction of species such as Smallmouth Bass has resulted in large range expansions into Eastern Ribbonsnake habitat. Although Smallmouth Bass are native to Ontario, bass stocking by the Ontario Department of Game and Fisheries introduced a large number of Smallmouth Bass outside of their historic range. Although bass stocking is no longer practiced by the Ontario government, the Smallmouth Bass' range has increased and it is now considered introduced in at least one-third of the lakes in which it is found, with a range extending into Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (Funnell 2012).  Predatory fish can negatively impact Eastern Ribbonsnake  populations through predation or competition. These fish have been known to dramatically reduce populations of small fish and negatively affect the abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's main diet, amphibians (Vander Zanden et al. 2004). Exotic species that were introduced elsewhere in the country, such as Chain Pickerel, are expanding into Ontario and are expected to further impact the Eastern Ribbonsnake's prey (Hoyle & Lake 2011; COSEWIC 2012).

5. Management Objective

The management objectives are: to conserve the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) and the habitat where it is known to occur; to gain a sufficient understanding of the distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Great Lakes population) to better inform conservation efforts; and to mitigate known threats to this population in Canada.

In Ontario, the Eastern Ribbonsnake occurs throughout much of the southern part of the province, with the majority of observations occurring in the Georgian Bay region. However, throughout the rest of the species' range, including Quebec, there remains a lack of knowledge regarding locational information for this species. By gaining further knowledge of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's overall distribution, abundance and hibernation sites, conservation efforts for this species can be better targeted.

6. Broad Strategies and Conservation Measures

6.1. Actions Already Completed or Currently Underway

A number of stewardship, management and monitoring activities targeting the Eastern Ribbonsnake have been completed or are currently in development. Many of these projects have been made possible through funding from Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) (Environment Canada unpublished data) and other sources, including the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec.  The following are projects that are particularly pertinent to the conservation and management for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, and its habitat:

Loss or degradation of wetland habitat

  • Haliburton Highlands Land Trust (HHLT): The HHLT's "Wetland Reconnaissance and Community Mobilization for Recovery of Species at Risk" project identified 2,596 ha of wetland as important habitat that will be used for future conservation planning and property acquisition. Five workshops were held highlighting reptiles at risk, including the Eastern Ribbonsnake, through the distribution of educational resources. In 2010, a new observation of an Eastern Ribbonsnake was reported and verified as a result of the species at risk media campaign.
  • More than 9,600 ha of wetland have been secured and over 30,000 ha rehabilitated through the multi-partner approach of the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Great Lakes Wetlands Conservation Action Plan, and Ecological Gifts Program. The Eastern Ribbonsnake and other species occurring in wetland habitats greatly benefit from ongoing wetland conservation programs and partnerships.

Road construction and associated mortality

  • Board of Management, Toronto Zoo: With the help of HSP, the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG) at the Toronto Zoo (and now associated with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto) applied a Geographic Information System (GIS) model that predicts and prioritizes where roads act as wildlife mortality sinks and barriers to habitat connectivity in various municipal, provincial and federal road projects. OREG has investigated the effects of roadside habitat restoration on wildlife road mortality trends and is working with municipal partners (including planners and Conservation Authorities) to reduce the occurrence of wildlife-vehicle collisions. In addition, OREG has initiated local wildlife-road interaction monitoring projects involving citizen scientists and workshops to improve input to environmental assessments to promote and improve species at risk recovery efforts.
  • Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation: The Long Point Causeway Improvement Project is intended to reduce road mortality of reptiles and restore aquatic connectivity between the Big Creek Marsh and Long Point Bay, near Port Rowan, Ontario. Activities have included the installation of about 5,000 metres of barrier fencing along the roadway, the construction of three ecopassages allowing animals to pass under the road, the installation of artificial nest mounds for turtles and an on-going public education and outreach program to highlight the dangers roads pose to reptile species and ways that those dangers can be mitigated.
  • Nature Conservancy of Canada - Ontario Region & Trent University: During 2012 and 2013, with the help of HSP, road mortality surveys were conducted in the Bruce Peninsula region. A total of 22 Eastern Ribbonsnakes were found, 18 of which were dead on the road. This data will be used to create a model determining factors that can best predict road mortality hotspots on the Bruce Peninsula. This information will then be used to implement mitigation efforts in the identified hotspot areas.
  • Parks Canada: National Parks that have Eastern Ribbonsnakes, such as Thousand Islands, Point Pelee, Georgian Bay Islands, and Bruce Peninsula, regularly present outreach and in-park education programs on snake species at risk. This includes having decals on vehicles to promote awareness of snake mortality on roads. Species at risk outreach programs have been a part of these parks' educational activities for decades.

Lack of abundance and distribution knowledge:

  • Ontario Nature: A webpage with an online reporting form, program information and an online Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas has been created (www.ontarionature.org/atlas). The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas is aimed at improving the knowledge of species' distributions and local population occurrence. This atlas is used to produce a comprehensive, up-to-date database of reptile and amphibian occurrence data. The information is submitted to the Natural Heritage Information Centre annually, and informs local and regional land use planning, conservation and stewardship work. The atlas features full species descriptions, photographs, and range maps displaying historic and current species' occurrence data in 10 km x 10 km squares. Ontario Nature has also carried out several "reptiles at risk" projects on nature reserves in Grey and Bruce Counties and in eastern Ontario. These projects included extensive surveys for ribbonsnakes, mapping of ribbonsnake habitat, and development of local management plans for the species in those reserves. In the case of the eastern Ontario surveys, the project led to the acquisition of additional property for the purpose of reptile habitat conservation (Joe Crowley pers. comm. 2014).
  • With funding from Environment Canada's Aboriginal Funds for Species at Risk (AFSAR) program, a First Nations community in southern Ontario conducted monitoring surveys for a previously documented Eastern Ribbonsnake location, finding 20 individuals, as well as a new, previously undocumented location.
  • The Atlas des Amphibiens et des Reptiles du Québec (AARQ) project was formed to determine the distribution of the 38 amphibian and reptile species in the province of Quebec. This information is collected from volunteer submissions, professional surveys, museums and educational institutions; ranging from information on ecology and physiology to species abundance and distribution. The information gathered is used for reptile and amphibian conservation efforts by a variety of organizations such as Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec and Centre de données sur le patrimoine naturel du Québec (CDPNQ).


  • Sciensational Sssnakes!! and Scales Nature Park: Both presented sessions about species at risk reptiles throughout various regions of Ontario, especially southern Ontario where road mortality is a high threat. Programs were conducted at schools, community centers, public libraries, scouting groups, parks, fairs, and other public venues. In many presentations, live Eastern Ribbonsnakes were on display for the public to view and learn about. Analysis of pre- and post- program surveys showed statistically significant increases in participants' knowledge (60% increase) and attitude (13% increase) scores regarding snakes. The long-term result of this project will be increased awareness of, and interest in, issues relating to reptile species at risk conservation, decreased persecution, and increased support for other conservation activities.

Protection of Hibernacula during forest operations:

  • The government of Ontario provides guidance on how to protect known hibernacula of the Eastern Ribbonsnake - Great Lakes Population during forest management operations in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) 2010 Forest Management Guide for Conserving Biodiversity at the Stand and Site Scales

For more information about these or other projects that have received federal funding, please visit Environment Canada's web page.

Other Environment Canada programs or partnerships have contributed to wetland habitat conservation throughout Ontario, particularly in southern Ontario/Great Lakes region. For more information, please visit Environment Canada's web page.

6.2. Broad Strategies

The broad strategies to manage the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Canada are as follows:

  • Determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, in Canada;
  • Monitor changes in distribution and abundance;
  • Support stewardship activities and outreach programs aimed at mitigating threats and conserving suitable habitat;
  • Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species' conservation.

6.3. Conservation Measures

The conservation measures and implementation schedule proposed to meet the broad strategies outlined in section 6.2 are presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Conservation Measures and Implementation Schedule
Conservation Measure Category Conservation Measure Priority Footnote18 Threats or Concerns Addressed Timeline
1. Determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population 1.1 Develop efficient and effective methods to determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, along with habitat mapping. High Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance 2015-2020
1. Determine the current distribution and abundance of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population 1.2 Work with government and non-government partners to implement the methods identified in 1.1 at both known and historic Eastern Ribbonsnake sites and suitable habitats near those sites High Habitat loss or degradation;
Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance
2. Monitor for trends in distribution and abundance 2.1 At select sites distributed throughout the species' range, work with government and non-government partners to monitor changes in distribution and relative abundance. High Insufficient understanding of population trends 2015-Ongoing
2. Monitor for trends in distribution and abundance 2.2 Encourage the ongoing submission of incidental sightings. High Insufficient understanding of population distribution and abundance Ongoing
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.1 Conduct projects to identify high-risk areas for road mortality and mitigate mortality of Eastern Ribbonsnakes and their amphibian prey wherever possible (e.g., installation of wildlife fencing and ecopassages or culverts).   Medium-High Road construction and associated mortality Ongoing
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.2 Encourage outreach programs including social marketing campaigns, that educate the public about the ecological importance of snakes and promote the conservation of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and its habitat. Medium Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation; Persecution; Knowledge gaps on abundance and distribution Ongoing
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.3 Encourage forest best management practices that promote healthy beaver populations, which in turn create wetland habitat for Eastern Ribbonsnake. Medium Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation 2015-2020
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.4 Promote habitat stewardship and protection. High Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation 2015-2020
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.5 Develop and implement best management practices and land-use guidelines for ribbonsnakes High Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation 2015-2020
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.6 Conserve and restore wetland and riparian habitat where the species occurs and the corridors between natural areas, where feasible and necessary. High Loss or degradation of wetland habitat; Loss or degradation of riparian and upland vegetation 2015-2020
3. Support stewardship activities that mitigate threats and conserve suitable habitat for the species 3.7 Encourage communication and collaboration between agencies and organizations involved in research and stewardship activities for the species High All threats Ongoing
4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation 4.1 Encourage the transfer and archiving of Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Medium Knowledge gap Ongoing
4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation 4.2 Examine the population-level effect of road mortality on Eastern Ribbonsnakes. Medium Road construction and associated mortality 2015-2020
4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation 4.3 Determine the predator / prey dynamics for Eastern Ribbonsnake, and how global amphibian declines may be negatively affecting this population. Low Reduced prey abundance 2015-2020
4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation 4.4 Encourage genetic research on the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Studies include comparison of the Common Ribbonsnake and Eastern Ribbonsnake-Great Lakes population subspecies to determine if they could be considered a single designatable unit. Low Knowledge gap 2015-2020
4. Fill knowledge gaps that benefit the species conservation 4.5  Conduct research to investigate habitat use, movement, hibernation, reproduction, ecology and the effects of riparian/shoreline modification on the abundance of the Great Lakes population of Eastern Ribbonsnakes Low Knowledge gap 2015-2020

7. Measuring Progress

Every five years, success of the implementation of this management plan will be measured against the following performance indicators:

  • The Great Lakes population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and the habitat where it is currently known to occur have been conserved;
  • The abundance and distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population, has been better documented;
  • Conservation measures to mitigate road mortality have been implemented at one or more of the key areas in the Great Lakes population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's range;
  • Conservation measures to avoid or minimize the persecution of snakes have been implemented and there is more public support for conservation measures (e.g. increased knowledge of snakes and an improved attitude towards them; an increase in public support for the conservation of wetland habitat) in key areas of the Eastern Ribbonsnake's range.

8. References

Ashley, E.P and J.T. Robinson. 1996. Road mortality of amphibians, reptiles and other wildlife on the Long Point Causeway, Lake Erie, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 110(3):403-412.

Ashley, E.P., Kosloski, A. and Petrie, S.A. 2007. Incidence of intentional vehicle-reptile collisions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 12 (3), pp. 137-143

Bell, S.L.M., T.B. Herman, and R.J. Wassersug. 2007. Ecology of Thamnophis sauritus (Eastern Ribbon Snake) at the northern limit of its range. Northeastern Naturalist 14:279-292.

Brown, E.E. 1979. Stray food records from New York and Michigan snakes. The American Midland Naturalist 102(1): 200-203.

Carpenter, C.C. 1952. Comparative ecology of the Common gartersnake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis), the Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis s. sauritus), and Butler's gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri) in mixed populations. Ecological Monographs 22(4): 235 258.

Carpenter, C.C. 1953. A study of hibernacula and hibernating associations of snakes and amphibians in Michigan. Ecology 34(1): 74-80.

Conant, R. and J.T. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America (3rd edition). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 450pp.

COSEWIC. 2002. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Eastern Ribbonsnake Thamnophis sauritus. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 24pp.

COSEWIC. 2012. COSEWIC status report on Eastern Ribbonsnake Thamnophis sauritus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 35pp.

Desroches, J-F. and R. Lapare. 2004. Premières mentions de la Couleuvre mince, Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis, au Québec. Canadian Field-Naturalist 118:135-137.

Ducks Unlimited Canada. 2010. Southern Ontario Wetland Conversion Analysis. Final Report. Barrie, Ontario. 51pp.

Environment Canada. Unpublished data. Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP).

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2009. Building Resilience: the 2008/2009 Annual Report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Part 4: Building Resilience in the Protection of Biodiversity and Resources Section 4.2 Amphibian Declines: Canaries in Our Global Coal Mine? Toronto. 44-50.

Ernst, C.H. and R.W. Barbour. 1989. Snakes of Eastern North America. University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. 282pp.

Farmer, R.G. 2007. Factors associated with vertebrate roadkill in southern Ontario parks. M.Sc. thesis. University of Guelph.

Farmer, R.G., pers. comm. 2009. Personal communication with David Seburn. Ph.D. Candidate, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Funnell, E. 2012. The smallmouth bass in Ontario. Biodiversity Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Peterborough, Ontario. 61 pp + appendices.

Gilhen, J. 1984. Amphibians and reptiles of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Halifax, Nova Scotia. 162pp.

Gillingwater, S., pers.comm. 2009. Personal communication with David Seburn Species at Risk Biologist, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, London, Ontario.

Harding, J. H. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Hoyle, J.A. and C. Lake. 2011. First occurrence of Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) in Ontario: possible range expansion from New York waters of eastern Lake Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 125(1): 16-21.

Hulse, A.C.; C.J. McCoy and E.J. Censky. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 419pp.

Imlay, T.L. 2009. Examining spatial ecology at multiple scales: implications for Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) recovery in Nova Scotia. M.Sc. thesis. Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. [Downloaded on 27 October 2010].

Lamond, W.G. 1994. The reptiles and amphibians of the Hamilton area--an historical summary and the results of the Hamilton Herpetofaunal Atlas. Published by the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, Hamilton, Ontario. 174pp.

Lesbarrères, D., Ashpole, S.L., Bishop, C.A., Blouin-Demers, G., Brooks, R.J., Echaubard, P., Govindarajulu, P., Green, D.M., Hecnar, S.J., Herman, T.; Houlahan, J., Litzgus, J.D., Mazerolle, M.J., Paszkowski, C.A., Rutherford, P., Schock, D.M., Storey, K.B., Lougheed, S.C. 2014. Conservation of herpetofauna in northern landscapes: Threats and challenges from a Canadian perspective. Biological Conservation. 170: 48-55

Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC). 2012. Element summary report for Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario. [accessed March 2012].

NatureServe. 2013. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1(2 February 2009). NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. (Last Updated: February, 2012).

Minton, Jr. S.A. 1972. Amphibians and reptiles of Indiana. The Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, Indiana: 346 pp.

Ontario Nature. 2012. [accessed May 2012].

Rowell, Jeffrey C. 2013. The Snakes of Ontario: Natural History, Distribution and Status. Art Bookbindery, Winnipeg, Canada.

Scribner, S.J. and P.J. Weatherhead. 1995. Locomotion and antipredator behaviour in three species of semi-aquatic snakes. Canadian Journal of Zoology 73:321-329.

Schueler, F.W., pers. Comm. 2009. Personal communication with David Seburn. Curator, Bishops Mills Natural History Centre. Bishops Mills, Ontario.

Smith, K. 2002. COSEWIC status report on the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Thamnophis sauritus. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi+24pp.

Todd, J.A. 2007. Ecology of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) in a disjunct population in Nova Scotia. M.Sc. thesis. Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Vander Zanden, M.J., J.D. Olden, J.H. Thorne and N.E. Mandrakc. 2004. Predicting occurrences and impacts of smallmouth bass introductions in north temperate lakes. Ecological Applications 14:132-148.

Appendix A: Effects on the Environment and Other Species

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document could affect any component of the environment or achievement of any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy's (FSDS) goals and targets.

Management planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that implementation of management plans may inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the management plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.

It is anticipated that conservation measures for the Eastern Ribbonsnake should lead to the conservation of additional wetlands and the surrounding habitat. Such actions will be beneficial to other species relying on these habitats. Inventory or monitoring activities will have little or no negative effect on other species. Outreach and education programs will likely reduce negative perceptions of not only the Eastern Ribbonsnake, but also other snake species. Actions that lead to a reduction in traffic mortality for the Eastern Ribbonsnake, such as creation of ecopassages and addition of road barrier fences, will also reduce the mortality for other species of reptiles and amphibians. Some examples of species at risk that will benefit from these conservation measures are listed below in Table 3.

Table 3. Species at risk expected to benefit from conservation measures directed at the Eastern Ribbonsnake, Great Lakes population.
Common Name Scientific (Latin) Name SARA Status Province
Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian population) Pantherophis gloydi Endangered Ontario
Eastern Foxsnake (Great Lakes/ St. Lawrence population) Pantherophis gloydi Endangered Ontario
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake Heterodon platirhinos Threatened Ontario
Gray Ratsnake
(Carolinian population)
Pantherophis spiloides Endangered Ontario
Gray Ratsnake (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population) Pantherophis spiloides Threatened Ontario
Massasauga Sistrurus catenatus Threatened Ontario
Queensnake Regina septemvittata Endangered Ontario
Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentine Special Concern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
Northern Map Turtle Graptemys geographica Special Concern Ontario, Quebec
Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata Endangered Ontario, Quebec
Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Threatened Ontario, Quebec
Milksnake Lampropeltis triangulum Special Concern Ontario, Quebec
Eastern Musk Turtle Sternotherus odoratus Special Concern Ontario, Quebec
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis Threatened Ontario, Quebec
King Rail Rallus elegans Endangered Ontario
Bent Spike-rush Eleocharis geniculata Endangered Ontario
Hill's Pondweed Potamogeton hillii Special Concern Ontario

Appendix B: Sub-national conservation ranks of the Eastern Ribbonsnake in the United States

Table 4. List and description of various conservation status ranks for Eastern Ribbonsnake (inclusive of all subspecies) in the United States (NatureServe 2012). The Global rank for Eastern Ribbonsnake is G5 and National rank in the United States is N5 (Secure-common; widespread and abundant).
Sub-national Rank State
SNRNotedof Table 4 Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina
S1Noteeof Table 4 Illinois, Wisconsin
S2Notefof Table 4 Delaware, Vermont, West Virginia
S3Notegof Table 4 Kentucky, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island.
S3, S4Notehof Table 4 Connecticut
S4 District of Columbia, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina,
S4, S5Noteiof Table 4 Massachusetts, Tennessee
S5 Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Virginia
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