Habitat selection of Eastern Hognose snakes in southwestern Ontario

Laura Robson completed her MSc. thesis at the University of Ottawa on habitat use and demographics of Eastern hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos) in the Long Point Region. Hognose snakes are a species-at-risk in Canada with a designation of Threatened. In Canada, this harmless snake is found only in regions of Ontario that have sandy soils. They feed predominantly on toads and other small amphibians like wood frogs Colour morphologies vary from reddish to yellow with dark markings along their backs and from olive-green to black very few markings. Most notably, hognose snakes have a dramatic defense strategy in which they hiss, puff, strike and eventually ‘play dead’ when threatened by a human or predator. Eastern hognose snakes rarely bite when they strike and are non-venomous.

Laura’s fieldwork was done in 2009 and 2010 at several sites in Norfolk County, including the St. Williams Conservation Reserve. By implanting several adult snakes with radio transmitters she was able to track their movements and characterize the sites in which they chose to bask, nest and hibernate. This research helped identify what sort of areas should be preserved and restored in the future to help maintain viable populations of hognose snakes. Norfolk County is home to many of Canada’s at-risk reptiles and amphibians so it is reassuring to see that so many private landowners and conservation agencies are setting aside habitat for their future.