A Vancouver Island resident, the Western-Terrestrial garter snake, hunts for some small fish underwater. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey/Facebook)

A Vancouver Island resident, the Western-Terrestrial garter snake, hunts for some small fish underwater. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ritcey/Facebook)

Vancouver Island home to a healthy, useful four-species snake population

Islanders have nothing to fear from these scaly neighbours, none are harmful to people

If people on Vancouver Island come across snakes while enjoying the outdoors this spring, one nature enthusiast says there’s nothing to worry about.

You may even want to invite it back to your home garden.

Frank Ritcey, a former provincial coordinator for Wildsafe BC, says all of the Island’s snakes are harmless to people and they can be welcome helpers to rid pests, like slugs and insects, from your garden.

Vancouver Island is home to four snake species, including the common Western Terrestrial and Northwestern garter snakes and the rarer Sharp-Tailed snake.

“The garter snakes are really quite innocuous, so there’s nothing to really be concerned about,” said Ritcey.

But even with their pest-control benefits, green-thumbed Islanders might want to hold the invite if they have fish ponds in their garden. That’s because garter snakes prey on small fish. Ritcey said the snakes can stay submerged for around 10 minutes and have adapted to a point where they’re fast enough to catch fish underwater.

READ: Giant marine worms rising from burrows along Vancouver Island coast

He said that even though garters are venomous, their venom is too weak to harm humans and they don’t have the fangs to deliver it.

“When a garter snake bites its prey, it moves its jaw back and forth and the venom drips out from the jaw, into the wound,” he said.

B.C. residents in the Interior should be a little more wary of the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, although Ritcey said it’s very rare for people to get bit and the key is not to endanger the snake in the first place.

“The snake has no reason to bite you, so the only reason it’s going to bite is in defense of itself, so as long as you leave the snakes alone, they’re going to leave you alone.”

Even though they’re not a threat, Ritcey understands that the Island’s slithering serpents still many people squeamish. But for a lifelong wildlife lover like Ritcey, a snake-seeing trip to Vancouver Island never disappoints.

“I always enjoyed coming to the Island, because I knew I could always find lots of snakes.”

He said Vancouver Island’s healthy snake population is due to its suitable climate, abundance of food sources and ample resting spots.

If people do come across a snake, there’s a good chance it’ll just be one.

“Snakes are definitely loners,” Ritcey said.

However, tens of snakes – including different species – will congregate to den together during the winter months. Ritcey gave the example of how rattlesnakes and Western Yellow-Bellied Racers will eat each other during warmer months “but when they go to den, it’s almost like there’s a truce and they can share the same den.”

More information on Vancouver Island and B.C.’s snakes can be found at bcreptiles.ca/.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:jake.romphf@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.

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