How can Manitoba garter snakes survive the cold Canadian prairie winter? Yet snakes for sure can’t survive if actually frosty frozen. How on earth do these creatures endure the cold Canadian winters? The answer simply is that these snakes seek refuge in the ground below the chilly”frost” line and basically hibernate there doing the long winter months.
The red-sided garter snake that’s known to occupy the”Interlake” areas of the Canadian province of Manitoba ranges farther north than any other snake in North America, winters in communal dens, which sometimes can contain up to 8,000 snakes.
These winter dens are called”hibernacula” or just”winter dens”. Some of the largest concentrations of these are from the area west of Lake Winnipeg, in the”Interlake” area of Manitoba west of the major centres of Gimli and Winnipeg Beach. These dens are sinkholes in the local limestone rock produced simply when underground caverns have collapsed. The resulting fissures and cracks in the limestone bedrock provide the snakes access to depths below the frost line, a necessity since winter temperatures in the area can often dip to minus forty degrees centigrade which translates to – 40 degrees Fahrenheit as well. Its so cold in these areas the local have electric”block” from the engine blocks of the cars that they plug into regular ac electric jacks in order to start their cars in the dead of their – 40 degrees January winter temperatures.
What’s even better is that when spring arrives, usually in early May that hundreds and hundreds of snakes will pour from the dens onto the stones and rockfaces. You would think that you are seeing a sight of more snakes in one location than anywhere else in the world and you’re most likely correct.
By early autumn these exact same garter snakes are now fat and firm with a great deal of carbohydrates and fat out of their summer of feeding. As soon as they return to their dens they will not feed again for the next six or seven weeks. They will live off their fat reserves from the summer feedings. Interestingly these very same snakes appear to arrive at the dens sooner than need be – in fact it can be a month of so before they really have to arrive. This is yet another adaptation time and learnt tested from nature. As the autumn days get shorter and winter is nearer, temperatures are usually on the cooling trend. Snakes being cold blooded become lethargic during the cooler weather. It’s a case of getting the work done while the iron is hot.
These garter snakes will be safely underground in their winter dens. It may be chilly outside – very cold – yet these intelligent garter snakes, who combined with nature sit tight hibernating in temperatures which are a few degrees above freezing. You may well believe that these simple garter snakes are smarter than lots of the folks you meet in your travels. Its as if they know to plan ahead, to save food and energy and escape the cold and go”south” for the winter.