The 13 Types of SNAKES That Live in Ontario! (ID Guide)
There are A LOT of snakes in Ontario!
And what’s interesting is that they are all incredibly unique and have adapted to fill many habitats and niches.
You’ll see that the snakes that live in Ontario are very different from each other.
For example, some species are venomous, while others use constriction to immobilize their prey. Or the fact that certain snakes are rarely seen because they spend most of their time underground, but others are comfortable living EXTREMELY close to humans.
Today, you’re going to learn about the 13 types of snakes in Ontario!
#1. Timber Rattlesnake
- Crotalus horridus
- Adults typically range from 75 to 150 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
- Heavy-bodied with characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is found in a few small areas in southeast Ontario. Look for these venomous snakes in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
These snakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within range of their strike. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller snakes. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until their venom has taken effect before eating them.
These venomous snakes are potentially the most dangerous species found in Ontario due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. They typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
#2. Eastern Massasauga
- Sistrurus catenatus
- Adults are typically around 60 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is gray or light brown with darker chocolate-brown blotches on the back and smaller ones on the sides, which feature light edges.
- Thick body, vertical pupils, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, and heart-shaped head.
- Being rattlesnakes, look for the rattle at the end of their tail.
These small venomous snakes live primarily in wet habitats in Ontario.
The name “Massasauga” actually comes from the Chippewa language and means “great river mouth” which describes their habitat. Look for them in floodplain forests, shrub swamps, low areas along rivers and lakes, wet prairies, moist grasslands, bogs, and marshes. During the summer, they often migrate to drier regions adjacent to these habitats.
Eastern Massasauga Range Map
Unlike other rattlesnakes, the Eastern Massasauga hibernates alone. They frequently hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also use small mammal burrows or spaces under rotting logs or tree roots. Dens must be below the frost line, or they risk freezing to death!
These snakes have cytotoxic venom (poisonous to cells), which destroys tissue, disrupts blood flow, and prevents clotting. But these snakes are secretive, shy, and avoid humans when possible. The only times they bite seem to be when handled or accidentally stepped on!
This venomous snake is listed as threatened, endangered, or a species of concern in all of its range. Historically, these snakes have faced pressure from hunting, and many states had bounties and roundups for them. Today they are still often killed out of fear AND face diminishing wetland habitats.
#3. Northern Watersnake
- Nerodia sipedon sipedon
- Adults range from 60 to 140 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
- Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
- Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.
This species is the most common water snake in Ontario!
Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re most often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.
Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!
When disturbed, Northern Watersnakes flee into the water to escape. However, if grabbed or captured, they’re quick to defend themselves. They will release a foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tale, flatten their body, and strike the attacker.
While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!
Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.
#4. Queen Snake
- Adults are generally around 60 centimeters in length though individuals up to 90 centimeters have been reported.
- Coloration is drab brown or olive green with two lighter stripes down the sides.
- The underside is yellow or tan, with four dark stripes that run the length of their belly. No other similar species has this feature!
Queen Snakes prefer moving water and are generally found near streams and rivers with rocky bottoms. They have highly permeable skin, making them susceptible to evaporative water loss. As you can imagine, they are rarely spotted far from water.
Queen Snake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Queen Snakes are considered less secretive than many other snakes in Ontario.
They are primarily diurnal and can be spotted basking on rocks, overhanging branches, or vegetation near the water’s edge. They often take refuge under rocks along the edges of streams. If you’re lucky, you may see them swimming.
Queen Snakes are specialist predators that primarily feed on crayfish. They almost exclusively prey on newly molted crayfish, which have soft bodies and can’t use their pinchers yet. They hunt by probing under rocks and other submerged objects for crayfish.
#5. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 45 to 66 centimeters in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Eastern Garter Snakes are common and easy to locate in Ontario!
In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these snakes in Ontario basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you capture or continually disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower. They’re active during both the day and night, depending on the temperature.
#6. Eastern Ribbon Snake
- Thamnophis saurita
- Adults typically range from 45 to 66 centimeters in length. A slender snake with a long tail!
- Coloration is brown to nearly black with three bright yellow to cream stripes; one down the back and one down each side.
- Snout and entire head are brownish, lips and underneath head are white.
Did you see a slender snake in Ontario with a long tail?
If so, it was probably an Eastern Ribbon Snake!
This species is semi-aquatic and RARELY found far from a source of water. Look for them in a wide variety of habitats, including marshes, grassy floodplains, streams, ditches with grass, wet areas in meadows, and woodlands adjacent to wetlands. Ribbon snakes are even found in suburban areas that match these conditions.
You might spot these snakes basking on branches of trees, bushes, or grasses overhanging the water. They typically hunt in the water and prey on amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
When disturbed, these snakes quickly flee into grass or brushy areas. If caught, they are not aggressive and rarely bite. But you can expect them to defecate and spray musk onto your hands. In the wild, Eastern Ribbon Snakes rely on blending into their surroundings to escape predators.
#7. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 60 to 90 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in Ontario, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#8. Gray Ratsnake
- Pantherophis spiloides
- Adults range from 106 to 182 centimeters in length though individuals up to 250 cm have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. Most Gray Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
Look for Gray Ratsnakes in Ontario in trees!
They are excellent climbers and often hunt and spend time in trees. Growing up, I used to see them all the time in a large walnut tree in our backyard! They occupy various habitats, including pinelands, stream banks, swamps, marshes, prairies, and agricultural areas.
They’re also spotted near barns and old buildings since these places provide them access to their favorite food, which is rodents. They are only found in Canada in parts of southern Ontario near Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Like other rat snakes, this species is an active hunter and a powerful constrictor. Adults typically feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and frogs. They suffocate larger prey using their strong coils but often swallow smaller prey immediately.
#9. Smooth Greensnake
- Opheodrys vernalis
- Adults are SLENDER and typically range from 35 to 50 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is uniformly light green with a yellow or white underside and a red tongue with a black tip.
- Juveniles may be olive-green, blue-gray, or even brown until they shed their skin for the first time.
Also called Grass Snakes, these bright green snakes can be found in marshes, meadows, pastures, savannas, open woods, and along stream and lake edges. They prefer moist areas near permanent water sources.
Smooth Greensnake Range Map
They prey almost exclusively on insects and spiders and don’t use constriction; instead quickly striking and swallowing their prey alive.
Smooth Greensnakes hibernate during the winter in Ontario, seeking shelter in old mammal burrows and abandoned anthills. They often hibernate communally with other small snakes. They emerge in the spring, typically in April, and are active until October.
Smooth Greensnakes rely on their EXCELLENT camouflage to avoid predators. They’re also agile and can flee quickly if they must.
#10. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon platirhinos
- Adults typically range from 50 to 75 centimeters in length.
- Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
- Thick-bodied, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes prefer areas in Ontario with sandy soil.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads and use their upturned snout to dig for them in their burrows. They also have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw that they use to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These snakes also have large adrenal glands, which secrete large amounts of hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!
When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and false strike with a closed mouth.
If this display fails to scare off a predator, then the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. 🙂
#11. Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Storeria dekayi
- Adults typically range from 15 to 33 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, which are sometimes linked.
- A dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.
Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and all sorts of trash and organic debris. They’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.
Dekay’s Brownsnake Range Map
These secretive, nocturnal snakes hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. However, they’ve also been known to consume snails, insects, insect larvae, small tree frogs, tadpoles, frog eggs, spiders, and fish. Prey is typically grabbed and quickly swallowed alive.
These docile snakes usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk from glands near the base of their tail.
This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.” However, pesticide usage and clean-up of cover objects may reduce their populations in urban areas by reducing their habitat and food source.
#12. Butler’s Garter Snake
- Thamnophis butleri
- Adults are slender and range from 38 to 51 centimeters in length.
- Coloration ranges from olive-brown to black with three yellow to orange stripes, one down the back and one down each side.
- Two rows of dark spots may be visible between the back and side stripes, and the head is usually small.
This species looks almost identical to Eastern Garter Snakes in southern Ontario.
So how do you tell the difference?
What’s unique to Butler’s Garter Snakes is the placement of their side stripes! Technically speaking, they are centered on the third scale row up from the large, elongated scales on the underside of the body. The side stripes also overlap the adjacent second and fourth scale rows.
But unless you’re a herpetologist or want to inspect a snake closely, this probably means nothing to you. For the rest of us, their head is typically a bit small compared to other garter snakes. In addition, when they are threatened, instead of fleeing, they tend to thrash around in place.
This species is considered endangered in parts of its range. Industrial development of agricultural land has caused significant habitat loss and degradation in their range. If you want to find one, look in moist grassy habitats, typically under cover objects like rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
#13. Eastern Foxsnake
- Pantherophis vulpinus
- Adults range from 90 to 180 centimeters in length.
- Coloration is light golden brown, yellow, or bronze with dark brown or reddish-brown blotches down the back and alternating spots down the side.
- Look for a short, flattened snout.
Eastern Foxsnakes are most often found in parts of southern Ontario in grasslands, prairies, and farming areas. They much prefer wet areas as opposed to dry and are typically spotted on the ground. But don’t be surprised if you see one of these snakes in a tree, as they are strong, agile climbers.
These snakes are typically diurnal, but they may hunt at night during extremely hot weather. They often hide under rocks, logs, or in burrows to regulate their temperature. During the winter, they hibernate below the frost line in underground burrows.
Foxsnake Range Map
Eastern and Western Foxsnakes are closely related and look the same. In the past, they were even considered the same species before eventually being split apart. The best way to determine the correct species is by location, as they are divided by the Mississippi River.
If disturbed, Eastern Foxsnakes coil and vibrate their tail, producing a rattlesnake-like sound in dry leaves. If grabbed, they will often release a foul-smelling musk which is thought to smell like a Red Fox, giving them their name.
Do you need additional help identifying snakes in Ontario?
Try this field guide!
Which of these SNAKES have you seen before in Ontario?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other Ontario guides!
I just saw one of those in our front yard on the Bruce Peninsula. Small head for such a thick body like a small banana and only 2’ long. Thought it might be a type of garter snake but had no back stripe, only 2 lower faded side stripes and black everywhere else except the tiny head which had white cheek stripes.
I don’t see the black with white stripes snake that we found in our garden East of Algonquin Park
Speaking of cute little snakes, the northern ringneck snake is also a cute little Ontario resident.
You’ve neglected to include the Red-bellied Snake. (The cutest little snake in Ontario )
Also, The Timber rattlesnake has been extirpated (killed off) in Ontario and was last sighted in the 1940s.
You have two #1 snakes. I am only aware of one venomous snake in Ontario… the 2nd one
eastern garter snake