|Mating ball of red-sided garter snakes|
I recently spotted this mating ball of red-sided garter snakes, basically Northwestern Ontario's only snake species. Only the border area between Minnesota and Ontario has another species -- the red-bellied snake, an equally harmless reptile.
Northwestern Ontario marks the eastern boundary of the red-sided garter. It exists from there all the way west to British Columbia.
A common size is about two feet but they can get as long as three feet. I repeat that they are harmless, non-poisonous snakes. They primarily eat frogs and toads but also catch mice, including the bane of every cottager and camper -- the whitefooted deer mouse.
We see them from time to time around the edge of the yard at camp. They are good swimmers and you sometimes also catch them crossing a small bay or narrows. They are poor climbers.
People seem to have an instinctive fear of all snakes but there is absolutely no reason to be afraid of garter snakes. The irrational fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia. I would bet that more people are afflicted from this condition than any other phobia. In some cases people need to seek counseling to help them deal with this fear. But for most, they just go through life saying, "I just hate snakes. I don't know why!"
I would like to suggest an alternative. We only actually fear one thing -- the unknown. If you want to conquer your fears and I think everyone does want that, then you need to learn all about the object of your fear. In this case, look up garter snakes in a book or on-line. They are a pretty neat animal. For instance, can you believe they travel up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) from their denning sites to their summer range and then do the same thing in reverse in the fall?
How do they find their way? How do they survive the winter? How long do they live? Since they aren't poisonous, how do they defend themselves? What are their predators? How do they give birth?
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