sharptail-snakeCan a country with cold winters actually have ectothermic, or cold-blooded, reptiles? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. The reptiles of Canada consist of 35 snake, 6 lizard and 9 land turtle species, found across the country. Our oceans also contain 4 sea turtle species that occasionally inhabit our Pacific or Atlantic coastal waters.

While most reptiles are found in the southern part of the country, there is one snake – the Common or Red-sided Garter Snake,found as far north as the Northwest Territories. The table below shows the reptiles in each province and territory.

Famous for our harsh and variable climate, it seems astonishing that these animals can survive here. But survive they do, and with some amazing adaptations.

Working as a group – During the winter, reptiles rely on warm, dry den sites that provide protection from the elements. The temperature in the chosen den never drops below freezing. Snakes are often found in dens, or hibernaculums, numbering several hundred animals. Even species that are enemies during the summer months will spend the winter huddled together. Many species of turtle also hibernate in groups.

Being darker – Dark colours absorb heat from the sun more readily than lighter ones. This rule holds true for many of our reptiles. Their tropical cousins are bright and colourful, but ours are various shades of brown. Reptiles living this far from the equator need to receive as much heat as they can from the weaker sun’s rays.

Hibernating – With so little to protect their bodies from the elements, reptiles use a variety of locations for shelter. Aquatic species may snuggle down into the mud on the bottom of ponds. Turtles can often be found in muskrat or beaver lodges, below the water line. Snakes look for a large, deep rock pile with a warm central area.

Live born young – Many reptile species, instead of laying eggs and leaving them to the elements, retain the eggs inside their bodies and give birth to live young. If the female keeps the eggs inside her body until they hatch, she is better able to regulate their temperature. This is a distinct survival advantage in cooler regions. The warmer the incubation temperature, the faster the development of the embryos as well.

There is a trade-off for this protective nurturing, as it results in fewer broods. In the tropics, reptiles may reproduce many times a year. Females in the cooler regions who give birth to live young are only able to do so once every year or two. They give birth in the summer, and may be unable to feed enough before hibernation to reproduce the following year. Live bearers who live at higher elevations may produce a brood only every two or three years.

Read more about Canada’s reptiles:

Garter Snakes of Canada

Lizards of Canada

British ColumbiaThe PrairiesNorthwest Territories
-Northern alligator lizard
-Western skink
-Rubber boa
-Western yellow-bellied racer
-Wandering garter snake
-Northwestern garter snake
-Common garter snake
-Sharptailed snake
-Nightsnake
-Northern Pacific rattlesnake
-Painted turtle
*
Introduced
-Common Wall Lizard
*
Pacific Coastal Waters
-Leatherback sea turtle
-Green sea turtle
-Plains garter snake
-Common garter snake
-Western hognose snake
-Painted turtle
*
AB & SK Only
-Greater short-horned lizard
-Bull (Gopher) snake
-Wandering garter snake
-Prairie rattlesnake
*
Saskatchewan Only
-Eastern yellow-bellied racer
*
SK & MB Only
-Smooth greensnake
-Red-bellied snake
-Snapping turtle
*
Manitoba Only
-Prairie skink
-Red-sided garter snake
Ontario & QuebecThe Maritimes
Labr. & Newf.
-Eastern milk snake
-Smooth greensnake
-Watersnake
-Dekay's brownsnake
-Red-bellied snake
-Common garter snake
-Ringneck snake
-Snapping turtle
-Spiny softshell turtle
-Painted turtle
-Spotted turtle
-Blanding's turtle
-Wood turtle
-Northern map turtle
*
Ontario Only
-Five-lined skink
-Blue racer snake
-Eastern fox snake
-Gray rat snake
-Queen snake
-Butler's garter snake
-Northern ribbonsnake
-Eastern hognose
-Massasauga rattlesnake
-Stinkpot turtle
-Eastern box turtle
-Smooth greensnake
-Red-bellied snake
-Common garter snake
-Ringneck snake
-Snapping turtle
*
NB & NS Only
-Painted turtle
-Wood turtle
*
Nova Scotia Only
-Blanding's turtle
*
Atlantic Coastal Waters
-Leatherback sea turtle
-Loggerhead sea turtle
-Kemp's Ridley sea turtle
None

See Also:

Canadian Reptile & Amphibian Conservation Network (CARCNET)

Canadian Sea Turtle Network 

Sharp-tailed snake photograph courtesy CARCNET.

 

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