Wildlife & Birds of Nova Scotia



Reptiles have dry skin with scales or shields. They are cold-blooded and breathe with lungs. Their eggs have leathery shells and are usually laid on land. Some snakes keep their eggs inside their bodies until the young hatch. The name reptile comes from the Latin word repere, which means "to creep". Nova Scotia has five kinds of snakes and seven kinds of turtles. Three of the turtles are marine animals and do not breed in the province.

COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE (Chelydra serpentina)

Nesting Season
Mid June - early July

No. Eggs

Egg Pattern Singly in one sand/gravel nest

Adult snapping turtles range from 22 cm to 35 cm in shell length and 4 kg to 16 kg in weight. Shells are brown but often appear green because of algae growing on the shell surface. Snapping turtles can easily be recognized by bony plates that form ridges on their tails. They are common in southwestern Nova Scotia and less common on the northeastern mainland. The rare snapping turtles that are seen in Cape Breton are probably introduced individuals or their offspring.

Snapping turtles may be found in any freshwater habitat and some saltwater areas. Ideal habitats include shallow freshwater marshes, meandering streams, and vegetated shallows of lakes. This species does not bask out of the water as often as the other pond and marsh turtles. Like other turtles, they lack teeth but have sharp beaks. Snapping turtles hunt by waiting in the shallows or prowling along the bottom of water bodies. They feed on animals such as fishes, frogs, snails, and waterfowl. Their claws are used to shred large food items like fishes. They also eat some plant material such as cattail and pickerel weed, though possibly by accident as they catch other animals.

Adults have virtually no predators besides humans. They hibernate in bottom sediments from October to May. Females will leave the water in mid-June or early July long enough to lay 20 to 40 eggs in sand, gravel, or soil of beaches, roadsides, woods, or gardens. The eggs hatch three months later, and hatchlings usually overwinter in the nest. Many nests are destroyed by skunks, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes.

The snapper's typical behaviour in water is to swim away if disturbed, so they are generally harmless to swimmers. Turtles encountered on land are dangerous if disturbed. Even the tiny hatchlings have the instinct to strike at potential danger when on land. Snappers can lunge farther than suspected, and the sharp, powerful jaws can inflict a painful wound.

[Species Index]

BLANDING'S TURTLE (Emydoidea blandingi)

Nesting Season
Early June - early July

No. Eggs

Egg Pattern Singly, in one sand/gravel beach nest

The Blanding's turtle is the rarest turtle in the province. There is only a small population found in the Kejimkujik National Park area of southwestern Nova Scotia. In 1993 the Blanding's turtle was designated as a species-at-risk. The range of the Blanding's turtle extends from Nebraska to southern Ontario and Maine. They typically inhabit shallow, peat-darkened acid waters that are heavily vegetated.

This turtle can easily be recognized by its high domed shell and yellow chin and throat. The upper shell is 18 cm to 23 cm long and grayish black with grayish yellow flecks. The bottom shell is yellow with black patches. The top of the head and neck, limbs and tail are all black. A flexible hinge on the upper shell allows the Blanding's turtle to close up tighter than other native turtles. The unusually long neck acts like a snorkel, allowing the turtle to remain mostly submerged and still breathe surface air.

Blanding's turtles hibernate underwater from mid-November until early April. They generally move downstream to feed on insects such as dragonfly nymphs and beetles, as well as snails, worms, fishes, and vegetation. Adults mate in late summer or early fall. Blanding's turtles mature later (usually around 14 years of age) and live longer than most freshwater turtles. More than half the Kejimkujik population is over 30 years of age. One female was estimated to be 73 years old.

Mature females travel to sand or gravel beaches in early June to early July to lay nests of 10 to 12 eggs. Hatchlings emerge from the nest in September or October. A lack of suitable sites, flooding, and raccoon predation all have had an impact on nest success. The number of young turtles that survive long enough to breed is extremely low and raises concern for the long-term health of this species.

[Species Index]

GARTER SNAKE (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Nesting Season
Late April - May

No. Eggs

Egg Pattern Give birth to live young.

Nova Scotia has five species of snakes: northern redbelly, northern ribbon, Maritime garter, northern ringneck, and eastern smooth green. None of these snakes are poisonous. The garter snake and ribbon snake are the most aggressive at defending themselves with a mild bite if disturbed. Other Nova Scotia snakes rarely bite at all.

Garter snakes are found throughout Nova Scotia, including many coastal islands. They are very common, and larger than our four other snakes. Adults may be 40 cm to 90 cm in length. Garter snakes are longitudinally striped, like the fancy garters once used to support men's socks. Most garter snakes have three yellowish or brownish stripes along the back. The Maritime garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis pallidula) usually has the centre stripe obscured by black spots and is quite variable in colour and pattern. In Nova Scotia, this subspecies of garter snake can even occur with a black body colour.

Garter snakes occupy a wide range of habitats, including shorelines from ponds to oceans. They are excellent swimmers, and have been observed in lakes 100 m from shore. Garters inhabit fields, forests, gravel pits, abandoned mines, and urban areas. Shelter is found under stumps, rocks, logs, boards, and wood piles.

Hibernation starts in late September. It may occur singly or in large numbers in areas called hibernacula, which include holes, rock crevices, abandoned anthills, rotten wood, mud banks, wells, and house foundations. Garter snakes emerge from hibernation starting in mid-April, before most other snakes. Breeding usually occurs soon after emergence in the spring but sometimes occurs in the fall, in which case a female stores the sperm until the following spring. Females give birth to 6 to 40 live young any time from July to early September. Garter snakes in coastal areas and on islands tend to be smaller and produce only 6 to 12 young, usually in August.

Garter snakes feed on amphibian, fishes, leeches, small birds, and rodents. Earthworms can form up to 80 percent of their diet, and are--together with redback salamanders--the main prey of juveniles. In turn, garter snakes are eaten by hawks, owls, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and raccoons.