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Northern Ribbon Snake

Thamnophis sauvitus septentrionalis Rossman

Ribbon snakes in Nova Scotia are known only from Queens and Lunenburg Counties, although they also live in southern Ontario and the northeastern United States. They look something like Garter Snakes, but are more slender with dark brown or black colour and a bright yellowish stripe down the back and on each side. Their preferred home is boggy or grassy places on the shores of quiet ponds or streams.

Although active during the day, Ribbon Snakes seem nervous - they will quickly hide under plants when you approach. These snakes are also quite at home in the water. Ribbon Snakes are smaller than Garter Snakes; their young, about 10 to a litter, are born alive. Small fish, frogs and insects are common food.

Ribbon Snakes in Nova Scotia are quite a mystery. They can be very hard to find, and they don't turn up in the same place each year. Ribbon Snakes and Blandings Turtles are both at risk - there are small populations in southwestern Nova Scotia, cut off from much larger populations in Ontario. There are recovery teams in place for both these species.

Additional Facts and Details

We would like to know lots more about the Ribbon Snake population of Nova Scotia. If you see one, please let the Museum of Natural History know. Try hard to positively identify is as a Ribbon Snake, not Garter Snake.

The stripes are brownish-yellow down the middle of the back and greenish-yellow on the lower sides. There is a dark caramel-brown stripe below the light stripe down both sides of the abdomen and the underside of the tail. When you see this snake, the stripes are strong and clear. A Garter Snake just seems mottled, any striping is not so bold.

There are approximately 150 scales along the bottom of the snake.

How big do they get? Here are some measurements:

  • Adult males (6 measured) 28.5 - 38.9 cm
  • Adult females (8 measured) 29 - 50 cm

How many babies? Based on five cases, from 6 to 10 per litter.

Ribbon Snakes are found from southern Maine west to Vermont, southwest through northern New York State to northern Indiana and southeastern Illinois. The range extends into southern Ontario. The Nova Scotia population in Queens and Lunenburg counties is cut off - "disjunct" - from all other populations.

Their main habitat requirement seems to be a quiet lake or pond edge with lots of aquatic plants for shelter and hunting grounds.

The earliest record for seeing one emerging from hibernation is April 23, in 1979, in a roadside gravel pit at Colpton, Lunenburg County.

The latest date in the year for seeing one is October 2, in 1966, at Ponhook Lake, Queens County.

They are active during the day, but compared to Garter Snakes are very nervous when approached. They hide under water, among the bog moss or pond plants, and are tough to find.

Snake Species

Maritime Garter Snake

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Northern Redbelly Snake

Northern Ringneck Snake

Northern Ribbon Snake

See Also

More Snake Facts