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CINDY DAY: Snakes on a winter day

Philip Capstick came across this garter snake earlier this month near Halls Harbour, N.S.  We don't often get to admire the snake's intricate pattern on a white background.
Philip Capstick came across this garter snake earlier this month near Halls Harbour, N.S. We don't often get to admire the snake's intricate pattern on a white background. - Contributed

I think it’s wonderful that people send me photos that are not necessarily directly related to the science of meteorology. I am curious, too, and love to learn!

Last week, Philip Capstick was out for a walk when he spotted something moving on the snow. It might have looked like a stick or a branch but, lo and behold, it was a snake – a lovely little garter snake.

Philip wrote: “Snow snake? A first for me Cindy! Hiking in the Sullivan Vault near Halls Harbour today, I came across this very fat and healthy garter snake slithering across the snow. It was beside the brook. This can’t be normal?”

Wow! I am not an expert on snakes although I don’t mind them. I do, however, have a cousin who is quite well versed when it comes to reptiles.

When he was young he would come to the farm for summer visits – never without an iguana. Mom insisted that he spend the night in the washroom – the iguana, not my cousin.

I digress. His name is Michel Villeneuve and he has researched and written extensively on the subject of reptiles so I decided to reach out to him.

I told him about the off-season sighting and he was quite intrigued. “…it is not common for snakes to be slithering around in the winter but I’ve seen it before – following a mild spell and some heavy rain; there’s no other reason they would leave their hibernaculum. They hibernate communally so if one is out there’ll be more. Unfortunately, if it gets cold before the water drains, there will be high mortality.”

So interesting!

The first thing I did was look up hibernaculum: hibernaculum plural form: hibernacula (Latin, “tent for winter quarters”) is a place in which a creature seeks refuge, such as a bear using a cave to overwinter.

Great word. Then I did a little more research and found a few interesting facts about the common garter snake:

Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis

Average weight: 150 g

Average length: 46 to 137 cm

Average lifespan: Two years in the wild and 6 to 10 years in captivity.

Female garter snakes can have as many as 70 to 80 young in a single litter!

 And finally, did you know that the fear of snakes, or ophidiophobia, is the second most common phobia in the world? Almost one third of adults are believed to have an intense fear of snakes.

Have a weather question, photo or drawing to share with Cindy Day? Email [email protected]

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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