At my old friend Terry’s suggestion we trekked north out of Winnipeg into the Interlake so named due its location between Lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg. Our destination was the red-sided garter snake dens just north of Narcisse on Hwy #17 though neither of us are particularly fond of snakes. It was the phenomenon we were looking for.
The day was cloudless and warm, a perfect day to escape the Hive. Immediately upon our arrival a friendly and informative snake lady who works for the site gave us some information about the most active dens – today it was 2 and 3. There are four dens. The late spring has put the emergence of the snake population back about a month, she explained, so we can expect snakes to still emerge for the rest of May into June. She mentioned the wood ticks are out so stay on the trail. I just did a tick check of my body and turned up none. The limestone trails to the dens are an easy hike across flat land and completely wheelchair accessible. The viewing areas sets the visitor above and apart from the dens below, well out of each other’s way. Snakes moving in the dry pit created a constant low rustle.
Although the snakes haven’t eaten since last summer, their first imperative is biological – to mate. For that purpose male garter snakes wait to the mouth of the den for females to emerge. They throng the female creating a passionate mating tangle that moves across the ground, up the side of the pit then tumbles back down. Today there were small clusters, no large mating balls of hundreds of snakes.
We passed two school buses of kids coming from visits to the snake dens and there were at least a dozen cars in the lot. But there was no crowd, just the happy, enthralled voices of kids discovering the snakes.
As Terry pointed out, we seldom get to see the ancient pivotal moment in another creature’s life when they are governed by The Old Rules of procreation. We found our phenomenon.
I shot a 2 minute video of the snakes today. Watch it here.
My earlier visit to the snake dens in 2002 prompted this report.
Current information on the Narcisse Snake Dens.