Snakes on a Plain: Narcisse in Spring
If you’re mildly curious about why this hamlet hosts the biggest convention of red-sided garters in the world, then head for the dens. Time to squirm!
Ophidiophobes, stop reading instantly!
If the idea of a Prairie field slithering with tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes makes you do the tequila wiggle and blurt out the word bleeech, then visiting Narcisse, Manitoba in the spring is likely not for you.
But if you’re mildly curious about why this hamlet hosts the biggest convention of red-sided garters in the world, then head for the dens.
It’s about an hour and a half drive north of Winnipeg, through the province’s rugged Interlake region. Once you get north of Teulon, towns, houses and people start to get scarce, so pack a snack and a drink. The dens are about six kilometers north of the town of Narcisse, so keep your eyes peeled for signs. Or just take note of the wiggly bodies attempting to cross the highway.
So why are they so many snakes in this part of country? The landscape around Narcisse ¬is littered with limestone dens—the perfect place for these cold-blooded critters to spend the winter. The area also has plenty of marshes—an equally perfect place for snakes to spend the summer.
It’s typically the last week in April and the first few weeks in May when they come out of their dens. The days with most activity seem to be when the sun is shining and there are still little piles of snow here and there. That’s when things get hot, as least when it comes to the mating game.
Have a contest to see who can spot the first mating ball. It’s not going to be much of a challenge because these things are the size of volleyballs! Dozens of doting males vie for the attention of one larger female, rolling around on the ground or hanging from tree limbs in a writhing ball.
After a couple of weeks of this, the snakes head for the marshes, presumably to recuperate. So catch them when you can. The three kilometre walking trail takes you through native grassland, aspen forests and right up to the actual limestone dens where you can peer over the edge and see the slithering masses. But they don’t stay put in the their dens, so be careful where you step.
You can certainly pick up a snake or two if the mood strikes, but keep in mind that this is mating season, and they can get a little nasty. They’ll slink around your hands and curl around your arms and maybe take a nip out of your fingers. You’ll want to wash up at the well after handling a snake. The scent they leave behind isn’t pleasant.
The site includes a large parking lots, orientation signs, outhouses and a picnic area. Water from the pump isn’t drinkable but it is good was washing your hands.
Keep tabs on snake activity this spring here.