A few years ago I posted about Narcisse,MB, the world capital of Red Sided Garter snakes. At that time I guess we were not in the right season and we came back with only a few miserable snake pictures.
So I went back this year, and tried to pay attention to the calendar for them. So, this time I was luckier. The snakes were
there en masse.
When I arrived there this morning, even if it was a bit early, there was a lot of activity in the snake dens of Narcisse. Frantic activity, I should say.
After a full winter of dormancy and other low level activities in the karsts below ground, the garter snakes emerge.
While I have to wake up and walk on radar most mornings in my quest for fresh coffee, these guys have only one thing in mind: reproduce! The males are out a little before the females in the morning and wait until one of them shows up.
A mating ball
Then, it’s party time. Orgies called “mating balls” can be seen all over the entrance of the dens. In the above melee of snakes, there is probably only one female, collecting sperm from many of the males.
Mating in the morning sun
She keeps that separate from her eggs, which she fertilises somewhere in June, once she’s had a bite to eat and regained some strength from the winter.
A few weeks later she gives birth to live snakes, about a finger long. These little guys and gals won’t get any motherly love, though. They slither away in all directions, immediately in search for food. No Mom’s Day award for the Garter Snake Moms!
When the males have had their “exercise”, they start moving around and eat. There are very little visible mice and other small animals around this time in Narcisse. It must be good food.
These males, however are not very shy. They do try to get away from people, but you can pick them up without a problem. Contrary to their appearance, they are not wet or even slippery. They’re completely dry to the touch. Above is the picture of a little girl, perhaps 4 years old, holding a garter snake.
While most of them get away in the grass and between the rocks in search for food, some of them stay a while and take up the sunshine on the different wooden decks, created for the visitors to observe the mating balls. You have to be careful where you step, since they can come up behind you from between the boards.
On the deck
In a different den on the territory, the mating balls were a little smaller. For whatever reason that was. There were also more males slithering around on the ground.
Defensive or offensive position
This little guy was in a terrible mood and coiled up for an attack as soon as he saw me. I guess he must not have had his morning “exercise” yet . He started hissing and was making a mock (?) attack on the camera. He was clearly very nervous. After a few pictures I left him alone. Another visitor picked him up a few minutes later and she got “musked”. A defensive, smelly way to show anyone to stay away.
Garter snakes are not venomous, their bite can do no harm. At least from the viewpoint of the venom. Since they don’t have hands to brush their teeth every now and then, you have no idea what is still clinging to those fangs. No need to get that into my bloodstream.
There is a curious interaction between the Garter Snakes from Narcisse, which does not occur elsewhere. In the dens in Narcisse, the snakes can be picked up without a problem. Elsewhere you get musked immediately. However, in Narcisse, since the people are there, the birds have no chance to prey on them. So the price for staying alive is apparently a more docile behaviour towards man. Elsewhere the snakes get often eaten by birds, who only eat their liver and leave the rest.
Sniffing the air with the tongue
All in all a bigger success than last time, now I have seen the mating balls of the world famous Red Sided Garter snakes. I can imagine worse rituals when waking up after a long winter in a dark and damp place… Even if I’d be hungry…