Species Profile

Eastern Ribbonsnake Atlantic population

Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus
Other/Previous Names: Northern Ribbonsnake (Atlantic population)
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Nova Scotia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2012
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C2a(i)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: Recent extensive survey efforts to quantify the abundance and distribution of this cryptic and hard to identify snake confirm that it is rare and has a very small distribution. However, little is known about population trends. Fluctuations in population numbers and a continuing decline in overall numbers of mature individuals are suspected; both increase the susceptibility to stochastic events. Shoreline development and its associated risk is an increasing threat throughout much of the range.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in May 2002. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2012.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

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: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Ribbonsnake

Eastern Ribbonsnake Photo 1

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Taxonomy

There are four subspecies of the Eastern Ribbonsnake, and only one, the Northern Ribbonsnake, is found in Canada.

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Description

The Eastern Ribbonsnake has three yellow longitudinal stripes on its back against a dark brown to black background. The chin and throat are pure white to fawn-coloured, and the belly is pale green, yellow, or white. The Eastern Ribbonsnake strongly resembles the more common and closely related Eastern Garter Snake in both colour and size. The most reliable way to distinguish between the two species is to see which scale rows have yellow stripes, but this is usually only possible with a captured specimen. In the field, one has to rely on comparisons; Ribbonsnakes are more slender and have longer tails than garter snakes. The tail accounts for at least one-third of the total length of an adult Eastern Ribbonsnake (46 to 86 cm). Both sexes have the same colour pattern, but females tend to be slightly larger and thicker-bodied than males. The young are miniature replicas of their parents.

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Distribution and Population

The North American distribution of the Eastern Ribbonsnake extends from around the Great Lakes east of Lake Michigan to Florida. In Canada, there are two populations: the Great Lakes population of southern Ontario that is part of the main range of the species in the United States; and the separate Atlantic population in Nova Scotia. The latter is limited to three watersheds in the southern portion of the province, and it is thought to be a relict from when a milder climate existed in North America approximately 5000 years ago. Eastern Ribbonsnakes are rare in Nova Scotia. In 1998, the Atlantic population was estimated at 1000 to 3000 individuals. Because no earlier population estimates exist, trends for this population are unknown.

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Habitat

The Eastern Ribbonsnake is semi-aquatic. It is most frequently found along the edges of shallow ponds, streams, marshes, swamps, or bogs bordered by dense vegetation that provides cover. Abundant exposure to sunlight is also required, and adjacent upland areas may be used for nesting.

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Biology

Eastern Ribbonsnakes are diurnal (active during the day), gregarious, and very active, but timid and generally docile. They feed primarily on amphibians, particularly frogs. During winter (October to April), Eastern Ribbonsnakes hibernate in rock crevices, animal burrows, and even in ant mounds. Soon after they emerge in early spring, adults begin courtship, followed by mating. Females may move away from their normal habitats to drier areas to nest, as indicated by occasional observations of females and juveniles in upland areas. Live young are born in the early fall, usually in September. Litters are small, averaging 5 to 12 young, which are 16 to 24 cm long at birth. They take two to three years to reach maturity.

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Threats

The greatest threat to the Atlantic population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake is habitat loss due to an increase in lakeshore cottage development, combined with increased predation by house cats. A general decline in amphibian prey, collecting, accidental death on roads, and natural predation may also threaten the population.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Ribbonsnake, Atlantic 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.

Although the Eastern Ribbonsnake was assigned a "yellow" status in Nova Scotia, indicating that it is ecologically sensitive and may require special attention, it is not yet listed under Nova Scotia’s Endangered Species Act. Where it occurs in Kejimkujik National Park, the species is protected by the National Parks Act.

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 Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Atlantic Population in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date Little is known about the Eastern Ribbonsnake in Nova Scotia. Activities of the Eastern Ribbonsnake Recovery Team have focused on filling the knowledge gaps, identifying new sites to target for stewardship activities, and informing and engaging the public in ribbonsnake recovery. A public awareness pamphlet, distributed in Nova Scotia, encourages the public to report any ribbonsnake sightings and increases awareness of the Eastern Ribbonsnake. This educational component is very important in the recovery of this species as it helps lessen the fear people have of snakes. Active local involvement also encourages positive attitudes towards snake species at risk and their recovery. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Surveys of Eastern Ribbonsnakes are conducted daily in spring (April/May) and fall (September/October) at Grafton Lake in Kejimkujik National Park. Additional surveys are conducted at sites with known populations throughout the range of the Eastern Ribbonsnake in Nova Scotia. These surveys look at the behaviour and dynamics of this species as well as the distribution and identification of their critical habitat. In 2007, researchers will attempt to radio track individual snakes to identify movements and seasonal habitat use. Data collected will help to identify areas to focus future stewardship activities, particularly in regions where the Eastern Ribbonsnake and Blanding’s Turtle habitat overlap. As the overall distribution of Eastern Ribbonsnakes in Nova Scotia remains unknown, Nova Scotia’s Eastern Ribbonsnake Recovery Team systematically searches potential habitat to look for ribbonsnakes. Many of the wetlands in south-western Nova Scotia are not easily accessible, thus limiting much of the search effort to the most accessible wetland habitat. The public participates in these searches by reporting sightings of ribbonsnakes and conducting surveys. Habitat data is collected at each site surveyed in an attempt to determine any distinctive habitat features that will help to predict areas where ribbonsnakes reside. Small samples of DNA are collected from each ribbonsnake that is encountered during the surveying (snakes are hand-captured, marked, and then released during this process). The data collected will help to increase knowledge of the population’s genetic structure. This information will help researchers identify long-term movement patterns between concentration sites, assess the risk of inbreeding depression, and determine if the Nova Scotia population is genetically different from other parts of the species’ range. Researchers are examining the possible factors causing this species to emerge from their over-wintering sites in the spring, including the effects of underground temperature, water level, and the snake’s biological clock on their emergence. Summary of Recovery Activities Information on this species is produced and distributed to the public in presentations, pamphlets, websites, and through one-on-one landowner contact with the intent of increasing the positive perception of the Eastern Ribbonsnake and other snake species at risk. In 2004, a trial public information brochure was well received and distribution in southwest Nova Scotia followed in 2005 and 2006. A large-scale school presentation also was initiated in this region in 2005. Recovery volunteers attend community events, such as fairs, meetings, and exhibitions. A toll-free reporting line was re-established for species at risk in 2004, which has helped people report ribbonsnake observations. The Eastern Ribbonsnake is one of many snake species included in the Sciensational Sssnakes program. This program focuses on increasing public awareness about reptiles at risk, thus positively changing people’s attitudes about reptiles and engaging citizens in recovery activities. Many landowners have been contacted through site visits, informed about ribbonsnakes, asked for permission to conduct surveys on their land, and encouraged to participate in ribbonsnake recovery. There are many opportunities for members of the public to get involved directly in ribbonsnake research and recovery through the stewardship programs, which are expanding in 2007. URLs Nova Scotia’s Eastern Ribbonsnake Recovery Team:http://www.speciesatrisk.ca/ribbonsnake/ Eastern Ribbonsnake Information Pamphlet:http://www.speciesatrisk.ca/ribbonsnake/Ribbonsnake%20pamphlet.pdf Parks Canada: Time for Nature:www.pc.gc.ca/canada/pn-tfn/itm2-/2005/2005-12-05_e.asp Sciensational Sssnakes:http://www.scisnake.com/ Nova Scotia Museum of Natural Historyhttp://museum.gov.ns.ca/mnh/nature/snakes/ribbon.htm

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.

17 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Ribbonsnake Thamnophis sauritus Atlantic population, Great Lakes population in Canada (2013-11-05)

    The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a small, slender semi-aquatic snake with a long tail. It can be identified by its black body with three, longitudinal yellow stripes, two lateral and one dorsal, running the length of the body. The side stripes occur on the 3rd and 4th scale rows. Below the stripe, the scales are caramel to rusty brown. There is a vertical white line in front of the eye.
  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the eastern ribbonsnake Thamnophis sauritus in Canada (2002-05-01)

    In Canada, the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is represented by a single subspecies, the Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis). The Northern Ribbonsnake has three yellow longitudinal stripes on a dark dorsal background, and bears a strong resemblance to the closely related Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis). The Northern Ribbonsnake can be distinguished from the Common Gartersnake by close examination of the stripes; those of the ribbonsnake fall on scale rows 3 and 4, whereas those of the gartersnake are on scale rows 2 and 3.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Ribbonsnake, Atlantic population (2013-12-18)

    Recent extensive survey efforts to quantify the abundance and distribution of this cryptic and hard to identify snake confirm that it is rare and has a very small distribution. However, little is known about population trends. Fluctuations in population numbers and a continuing decline in overall numbers of mature individuals are suspected; both increase the susceptibility to stochastic events. Shoreline development and its associated risk is an increasing threat throughout much of the range.
  • Response Statements - Eastern Ribbonsnake (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus), Atlantic Population in Canada (2014-03-21)

    The eastern ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is a small, slender, semi-aquatic snake typically found in slow flowing wetlands with abundant aquatic and terrestrial vegetation. Like several other species in the province, eastern ribbonsnakes occur near the northern limit of their range in Nova Scotia and are isolated from the species’ main range. Within the province, eastern ribbonsnakes appear to have a limited distribution in the southwest interior and are only known to occur in scattered wetlands of three watersheds. The isolation, restricted distribution, and apparently small population size have resulted in the listing of the Atlantic population as Threatened under both the federal Species At Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) and the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act (S.N.S. 1998, c.11).

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada (2017-02-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (KNP and NHS), including Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. 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 within these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at KNP and NHS.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013-09-24)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#2005-ATL-Keji-001), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2005-04-01)

    The overall objective of this project is to identify distribution and habitat use by eastern ribbonsnakes in wetlands in and adjacent to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada, in order to develop specific recovery objectives for this poorly understood population. Areas selected for dedicated surveys will be visually searched on foot and by canoe to confirm the presence of ribbonsnakes. An attempt will be made to capture all snakes encountered. All snakes captured will be individually marked either by ventral scale clipping or PIT tagging. All snakes captured will be sexed by examination of the tail base, photographed and measured. A blood or tissue sample will be collected for future genetic analysis of population structure. Areas found to contain concentrations of ribbonsnakes will be re-visited in an effort to re-capture marked individuals.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#2005-ATL-Keji-002), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2005-05-15)

    This project aims at gaining a greater understanding of the habitat use and movement patterns of the Eastern ribbonsnake in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada. Up to 15 snakes will be tracked over the summer: They will be captured, measured and marked with a non-toxic fluorescent powder according to standard procedures. Powder tracking will be used to complement other observation techniques by leaving an exact trail of the snake's movements. This information will assist in developing a recovery strategy for the species.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#KNP-2018-27717), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-04-16)

    Surveys will be conducted at various locations within Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site to determine continued presence of Eastern ribbonsnakes and to locate overwintering sites. Visual surveys will occur on foot in and around wetlands. Early spring and late fall surveys will concentrate in upland areas, including the two known overwintering sites. Later spring and summer surveys will be concentrated within wetlands. Surveys will be occasionally aided by trained conservation canines. An attempt will be made to capture all ribbonsnakes sighted. All snake processing will be conducted on-site and snakes will be released at their capture site as quickly as possible. Snakes will be weighed, measured and photographed. At select sites, snakes will be marked by ventral scale clipping. A pilot study will also be conducted to determine the efficacy of externally attaching transmitters to document movement of ribbonsnakes. Transmitters weighing less than one gram will be attached ventrally to snakes using duct tape.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#KNP-2018-27717-3), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-09-24)

    Surveys will be conducted at various locations within Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site to determine continued presence of Eastern Ribbonsnakes and to locate overwintering sites. Visual surveys will occur on foot in and around wetlands. Early spring and late fall surveys will concentrate in upland areas, including the two known overwintering sites. Later spring and summer surveys will be concentrated within wetlands. Surveys will be occasionally aided by trained conservation canines. An attempt will be made to capture all ribbonsnakes sighted. All snake processing will be conducted on site and snakes will be released at their capture site as quickly as possible. Snakes will be weighed, measured and photographed. At select sites, snakes will be marked by either ventral scale clipping or the insertion of a subcutaneous PIT tag. Individual marking will be limited to sites selected for long-term monitoring. A pilot study will also be conducted to determine the efficacy of externally attaching transmitters to document movement of ribbonsnakes. Transmitters weighing less than one gram (Holohil LB-2X and BD-2N) will be attached ventrally to snakes using duct tape.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#MNSFU-20-20 19-KEJ), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2019-10-28)

    As part of the Parks Canada CoRe Project "Conservation Infrastructure - Taking a stand on invasive fish", three small structures are planned to be constructed at Upper Cobrielle Brook to prevent invasive fish passage in areas identified as critical habitat for the Eastern Ribbonsnake. Each structure is being constructed from precast concrete blocks and will require excavation along the shoreline and in-stream, in order to level, seat and key in blocks. After complete dewatering at each site, levelling and seating will be completed using class A gravel and excavated material. Blocks will be armoured on the upstream side using excavated material and material brought in specifically for armouring (3" rock). Excavated material will be primarily used to create earthern berms, the largest of which is at the North barrier site but also as needed at the other sites. No excavation at the berm sites is required for earthen berm construction. Material will be compacted using on site excavator. All three sites will be constructed using a 16t excavator. The two barrier sites are very near the existing access road, and will require the excavator to only move 5m off the access road. Access to the inlet weir requires the excavator to travel along an existing access path for approximately 75m, where it will be positioned to build the weir from one location. These excavator access sites will have already been cleared of trees. Concrete blocks will be brought into the site the week before construction and placed in the laydown area and, where wide enough, along the existing access road. These will be brought into the Cobrielle site by a 15t Forestry Porter. Material (gravel, rock) will be stored at the Peskowesk road intersection, outside ribbonsnake critical habitat and brought in, as needed by a backhoe.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004-03-03)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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