Spring in Canada is a season of renewal after the winter dormancy. And while we wait anxiously for the green grass, the buds that will turn into leaves, and the first crocuses on the hillsides, few anticipate the return of snakes crawling out of the rocks. Few that is, except at Narcisse Snake Dens, a wildlife management area about 65 miles (110 km) north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, you’ll find tens of thousands of snakes crawling out into the spring sunshine after a long winter in their dens — and thousands of visitors watching them.
The Narcisse Wildlife Management Area interpreters, along with volunteer members from the Manitoba Herpetocultural Society, are on site to answer questions about the snakes during the spring mating season. What kind of snakes are they? (Check your answer by clicking on the tab (or arrow on your mobile device) above, The Snake Dens.)
The snakes at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area are red-sided garter snakes. They thrive here, living in the caverns created in the limestone bedrock by the movement of water over millennia. In fact, this is the largest concentration of this type of snake in the world.
Cold climate garter snakes hibernate during the winter, not waking until the ground has warmed. Then, the males emerge first, anxiously waiting for the females. In fact, when they do, as many as 100 males may all surround a female in a “mating ball!”
This is, of course, the best time to visit the Wildlife Management Area, if you find snakes fascinating — it’s not, however, an adventure for those who are squeamish.
My visit to the area was in August, when the snakes have spread out to the marshes in this low lying part of the province. As the weather begins to get cold and fall approaches, the snakes start to make their way back to the den for safe winter shelter.
Visit the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area
The Narcisse Wildlife Management Area is open year-round, however, you’ll only find interpreters present during the spring mating season. There’s no charge to visit the site.
Schedule for viewing the snakes as they emerge in the spring
I stayed at nearby Gimli, situated on the banks of Lake Winnipeg. Gimli has an annual Viking festival to celebrate its heritage. Directions below.
National Geographic Video at the Narcisse Snake Pits.
Photo credit: Narcisse Snake Dens Wildlife Management area, north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. By J Hazard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons