How do Manitoba garter snakes endure the cold Canadian prairie winter? Although snakes evolved in the tropics, some of these slimy often feared creatures of the wild and mythology have over the eons evolved to have adapted to cooler and even downright cold climates. Yet snakes for sure can’t survive if really frosty frozen. How on earth do these animals endure the cold Canadian winters? The answer simply is that these snakes seek refuge in the floor under the cold”frost” line and essentially hibernate there doing the long winter season.
The red-sided garter snake that’s known to inhabit the”Interlake” areas of the Canadian province of Manitoba ranges further north than any other snake in North America, winters in communal dens, which occasionally can comprise up to 8,000 snakes.
These winter dens are known as”hibernacula” or just”winter dens”. Some of the largest concentrations of them are from the area west of Lake Winnipeg, in the”Interlake” region of Manitoba west of the major centers of Gimli and Winnipeg Beach. These dens are sinkholes in the local limestone stone produced simply when underground caverns have collapsed. The resulting fissures and crevices in the limestone bedrock give the snakes access to depths below the frost line, a necessity since winter temperatures in the area can often dip to minus forty degrees centigrade which translates to – 40 degrees Fahrenheit as well. Its so cold in these areas the local have electrical”block” from the engine blocks of the cars that they plug into regular ac electrical jacks so as to start their cars at the dead of their – 40 degrees January winter cold temperatures.
You would think that you’re seeing a sight of more snakes in one location than anywhere else in the world and you’re most likely correct.
By early autumn these same garter snakes are now fat and firm with a great deal of carbohydrates and fat from their summer of feeding. Once they return to their dens that they won’t feed again for another six or seven weeks. They will live off their fat reserves from the summertime feedings. Interestingly these same snakes seem to arrive at the dens sooner than need be – in fact it could be a month of so before they actually need to arrive. This is yet another adaptation learnt and time tested from nature. As the autumn days get shorter and winter is nearer, temperatures are generally on the cooling trend. Snakes being cold blooded become sluggish during the cooler weather.
These garter snakes will be safely underground in their winter dens. It may be cold outside – very cold – yet these intelligent garter snakes, who along with nature sit tight hibernating in temperatures that are a couple of degrees above freezing. You might well believe that these simple garter snakes are smarter than many of the people you meet in your travels. Its like they know to plan ahead, to conserve food and energy and get out of the cold and go”south” for the winter.