Species Profile

Eastern Foxsnake Carolinian population

Scientific Name: Pantherophis vulpinus
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: December 2021
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2cd+3cd+4cd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This large, non-venomous snake is confined to a few small disjunct areas of southwestern Ontario within a landscape subjected to intensive agriculture and urbanization and crisscrossed by a network of roads. New information since the last assessment includes better understanding of population genetic structure, abundance, and habitat use, and clarification of threats. Aggregation of snakes at hibernation sites increases their vulnerability to natural catastrophes and human disturbance. Long seasonal migrations to and from these sites place them at particular risk from road mortality. The number of mature individuals is expected to continue to decline as a result of road mortality and other threats, including storms and flooding associated with climate change. A better understanding of the snake’s distribution and re-evaluation of the degree of population fragmentation contributed to the change in status from Endangered to Threatened.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Threatened in April 1999 and May 2000. Split into two populations in April 2008. The Carolinian population was designated Endangered in April 2008. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in December 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The Eastern Foxsnake commonly attains lengths of 91–137 cm. Adults usually lack any distinct patterns or conspicuous markings on the head, and head colouration varies from brown to reddish. The dorsum is patterned with bold, dark brown or black blotches on a yellowish background that alternate with smaller, dark blotches on the sides. The ventral scutes are most often yellow and strongly checkered with black. The scales are weakly keeled and the anal scale is divided. Juveniles have a lighter ground colour (commonly grey), lighter blotches bordered in black, a transverse line anterior to the eyes, and a dark line extending from the eye to angle of jaw on each side. The dark lines on the head of juveniles fade with age, and are usually quite faint in adults. (Updated 2017/05/29)

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Distribution and Population

The global distribution of the Eastern Foxsnake is restricted to the Great Lakes region of North America. Approximately 70% of the species’ range is in Ontario, Canada with relatively small distributions in Michigan and Ohio, USA. Within Ontario, the species’ distribution is highly disjunct, occupying three discrete regions along the Lake Erie-Lake Huron waterway shoreline. The three regional populations from south to north are (1) Essex-Kent, (2) Haldimand-Norfolk, and (3) Georgian Bay Coast. (Updated 2017/05/29)

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Habitat

Eastern Foxsnakes in the Essex-Kent and Haldimand-Norfolk regions use mainly unforested, early successional vegetation communities (e.g., old field, prairie, marsh, dune-shoreline) as habitat during the active season. Hedgerows bordering farm fields and riparian zones along drainage canals are regularly used. In some areas of intensive farming, these linear habitat strips likely make up the bulk of habitat available for foxsnakes. The populations of the Georgian Bay Coast predominantly use open habitats along shorelines (e.g., coastal rock barrens and meadow marshes) as habitat during the active season. The foxsnakes inhabiting this coastline do not venture far inland, restricting the majority of their activity to within 150 m of the water. (Updated 2017/05/29)

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Biology

Emergence from hibernation generally occurs from mid-April to mid-May, mating occurs from late May to mid-June, and egg laying occurs from late June to mid-July. Retreat into hibernacula occurs in September and October. Eastern Foxsnakes of the Georgian Bay Coast use much more space than those in Essex-Kent: on average, Georgian Bay females disperse 3.5 times farther from their hibernacula. Predators of Eastern Foxsnakes include the larger birds of prey and carnivorous mammals such as raccoon and fisher. Small mammals and birds make up the bulk of the Eastern Foxsnake’s diet. Both active searching and ambush (sit-and-wait) foraging strategies are employed. Eastern Foxsnakes can adapt to limited anthropogenic disturbance, an example being their use of human-made structures for shelter during the summer despite high levels of human activity. (Updated 2017/05/29)

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Threats

The threats facing Eastern Foxsnakes in Ontario remain roughly the same as those identified in the previous status report: namely, habitat loss and degradation, road effects, other inadvertent effects caused by human activities, and intentional persecution by humans. (Updated 2017/05/29)

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Foxsnake, Carolinian population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi), Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

19 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Eastern Foxsnake Elaphe gloydi, Carolinian population and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, in Canada (2008-08-28)

    The Eastern Foxsnake commonly attains lengths of 91–137 cm. Adults usually lack any distinct patterns or conspicuous markings on the head, and head colouration varies from brown to reddish. The dorsum is patterned with bold, dark brown or black blotches on a yellowish background that alternate with smaller, dark blotches on the sides. The ventral scutes are most often yellow and strongly checkered with black. The scales are weakly keeled and the anal scale is divided. Juveniles have a lighter ground colour (commonly grey), lighter blotches bordered in black, a transverse line anterior to the eyes, and a dark line extending from the eye to angle of jaw on each side. The dark lines on the head of juveniles fade with age, and are usually quite faint in adults.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Foxsnake, Carolinian population (2008-11-26)

    The species is confined to a few small increasingly disjunct areas that are subject to intensive agriculture, high human populations and extremely high densities of roads. Roads fragment populations leading to increased probability of extirpation. There are no large protected, roadless areas for this species in this region. The species is also subject to persecution and illegal collection for the wildlife trade.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi), Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, in Canada (2020-03-26)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian population) and the Eastern Foxsnake (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population) (henceforth referred to as the Eastern Foxsnake (Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations) and has prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. SARA section 44 allows the Ministers to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). A single document has been prepared to address the recovery of the two Eastern Foxsnake populations (Carolinian and Great Lakes/St. Lawrence) under SARA. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (now the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) led the development of the attached recovery strategy for the Eastern Foxsnake Carolinian and Georgian Bay populations (Part 2) in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. In this federal addition, “Georgian Bay population” has been replaced by the term “Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population” because that is how the species is listed under SARA, and these terms may be used interchangeably. The Province of Ontario also led the development of the attached Government Response Statement (Part 3), which is the Ontario Government’s policy response to its provincial recovery strategy and summarizes the prioritized actions that the Ontario Government intends to take and support.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008-08-28)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#46582), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2021-02-01)

    Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods are being developed to aid in the assessment and monitoring of species that are rare or difficult to observe directly. Effective eDNA programs require the development of reference primers (based on sample tissues/DNA obtained directly from target species) to accurately detect when target species are present in the environment. This project will collect DNA from water and genetic material from dead specimens of species at risk for development of an environmental DNA (eDNA) primer or to test the efficacy of an existing primer. The collection of the eDNA samples will take place in the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Point Pelee National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Elk Island National Park and the Rouge National Urban Park.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2007-1042), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2007-04-01)

    Eastern foxsnakes are restricted to the Great Lakes region of North America and shoreline development, marsh drainage and deforestation have greatly reduced and fragmented habitat and populations across their range. This is especially true in southwestern Ontario where extensive agriculture now dominates the landscape. Although some research on the Georgian Bay population has established habitat use and demographic patterns, very little is known about populations in southwestern Ontario where the habitat, climate and threats are dramatically different and arguably the need for research to direct policy is more immediate. Despite the extensive habitat loss in southwestern Ontario, foxsnakes seem to be persisting in some areas, but appear to be limited to small, isolated populations. Small populations may have decreased genetic diversity, which can lower reproduction and survival rates (Crnokrak and Roff, 1999; Heredity), increase extinction risk (Saccheri, 1998; Nature) and may reduce the ability of populations to adapt to environmental changes (Keller and Waller 2002; TREE). Previous research has suggested that although a number of populations seem to be genetically differentiated, some remain connected, despite being separated by extensive agriculture. In this study, we will therefore map the distribution and connectivity of populations of foxsnakes across southwestern Ontario using two approaches: 1) We will radio-track individuals and establish habitat use patterns for individuals from two populations (Point Pelee National Park and Hillman Marsh Conservation Area) in Essex County. With the established habitat use patterns, we will map the distribution of foxsnakes across their range in southwestern Ontario using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and fine scale satellite imagery. In addition to establishing habitat use patterns, radio-telemetry will allow us to identify hibernacula and nesting sites and assess the possibility for monitoring programs. 2) We will sex, measure, weigh and record the UTM location of all captured individuals. For future identification we will also implant a PIT tag under the skin of all new individuals and draw a small amount of blood (>500 ml) from the caudal vein for genetic analysis. We will optimize additional microsatellite loci to examine the genetic population structure across southwestern Ontario in more detail. More specifically, we will determine if current gene flow is occurring between populations and if so, how much and in which direction. The combination of these approaches will allow us to make recommendations for maintaining and improving connectivity within and between populations across southwestern Ontario.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2010-5538), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2010-06-01)

    This long-term research project aims to determine the current status and trends in relative population of eastern foxsnakes at Point Pelee National Park. Eastern foxsnakes are opportunistically captured and brought to the park's Visitor Centre where information on location, size, weight and gender can be recorded. Monitoring studies of eastern foxsnakes have been ongoing at Pelee since 1967 and snakes have been implanted with passive integrated transponders (PIT tags) for identification since 2001. All new captures will be implanted with PIT tags subcutaneously and released as soon as possible. This study will build on past data collection and will compliment data already supplied by hibernacula and telemetry studies.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2010-5539), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2010-06-02)

    Systematic surveys were initiated in 2001 for the presence of Lake Erie Water Snake and Eastern Foxsnake on Middle Island, part of Point Pelee National Park. This involves searching for, capturing and measuring snakes; determining identity of previously implanted passive integrated transponders (PIT tags) for identification or implanting a PIT tag in new snakes; and releasing the snake. This ongoing study provides information on population demography and size.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2013-13976), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2013-05-25)

    This long-term research project aims to determine the current status and trends in relative population of eastern foxsnakes at Point Pelee National Park. Eastern foxsnakes are opportunistically captured and brought to the park's Visitor Centre where information on location, size, weight and gender can be recorded. Monitoring studies of eastern foxsnakes have been ongoing at Pelee since 1967 and snakes have been implanted with passive integrated transponders (PIT tags) for identification since 2001. All new captures will be implanted with PIT tags subcutaneously and released as soon as possible. This study will build on past data collection and will compliment data already supplied by hibernacula and telemetry studies.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2013-13976), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-04-01)

    Eastern Foxsnakes have been the subject of numerous projects at Point Pelee National Park (PPNP) since 1967, including mark-recapture studies, radio telemetry, hibernaculum monitoring and genetic studies. However, due to their cryptic nature and low recapture rates, very little is known about the Eastern Foxsnake population size in PPNP, therefore the need for research to direct conservation decisions for this Endangered Species is great. PPNP, in collaboration with Ontario Nature, is undertaking a monitoring program that will be able to 1) detect population trends and 2) estimate the size of the park's population. This program uses artificial cover boards placed in transects to detect Foxsnakes (and other snake species, not at risk). Foxsnakes will be captured by hand, demographic data will be collected (sex, age, length, weight), and snakes will be individually marked using PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags, (if size and health allow). The first monitoring season in 2019 will serve as a pilot project, with the results being used to further develop the protocol in the coming years. This SARA authorization is a renewal of a previous SARA authorization PPNP 2013-13976 "Population Study of Eastern Foxsnake in Point Pelee National Park". With the exception of the addition of the cover board monitoring technique, there have not been any significant changes in methods or activities for Foxsnake monitoring for this renewal.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2015-03), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-10-28)

    Point Pelee National Park is re-paving and expanding the main road in the park and burying the power and communication utility conduits under the road. This will allow for the decommissioning and removal of the 6km aboveground power line corridor. Due to its close proximity to the road (~9m), one mature red mulberry tree may be impacted/harmed by this project and approximately 383m2 of critical habitat along the existing road will be destroyed as part of the initial phase of the project. Approximately 0.011km2 of critical habitat of eastern foxsnake and Blanding's turtle, and 0.005km2 of critical habitat of five-lined skink will also be destroyed along the existing road. Up to 200 individual common hoptrees may be damaged during the road recapitalization project, which may harm/kill any hoptree borers using them and damage/destroy their residences.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species (2009-01-30)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 20, 2009 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 19, 2010 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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