The following reptiles are considered species at risk. If you see any species at risk, please Report your observations to HHLT, or directly to our project biologist, Paul Heaven, Glenside Ecological Services Ltd. Click here to download the Species at Risk Observation Summary Sheet and send it to us (see contact info) or send an email to Paul Heaven, firstname.lastname@example.org
This section is divided into two parts:
Snakes and Skinks
Five Lined Skink
The Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) is eastern Canada’s only lizard and is limited to two disjunct regions in south central and southwestern Ontario. The Great Lakes/St Lawrence population is distributed along the southern margin of the Canadian Shield and requires a habitat consisting primarily of rocky outcrops embedded within a matrix of coniferous and deciduous forests. At a microhabitat level there is also an association with loose cover rock scattered over the rocky outcrops. Cover rocks are utilized for nesting, hibernation, foraging and thermo-regulating.
Home ranges are relatively small and are estimated to be between 300- 600 m2. However, individuals have been found up to 200 m from an original point of capture, indicating that they are capable of dispersing up to this distance.
The Five-lined Skink is categorized as a species of Special Concern nationally and provincially. The most serious threat to the Great Lakes/St Lawrence population is habitat loss on the macro and micro scale. Although the habitat of the Five-lined Skink is relatively robust (i.e. rocky barrens), damage to the vegetation in the surrounding landscape and microhabitat alteration in the form of loss or movement of cover rock can be detrimental.
Unlike salamanders, skinks have dry skin and move relatively quickly. Adolescent skinks have brilliant blue tails. A predator may pull off the tail, only to find it wriggling on its own while the skink escapes.
More on the Five-lined Skink:
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is categorized as Threatened nationally and provincially due to its rarity, and a decrease in area of occurrence.
The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake hibernates in nondescript burrows (often abandoned rodent burrows) in upland forested habitat with a preference for dry mixed forests and pine/oak forests. It nests in open areas with sandy soils and a southeast aspect.
In the spring the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is not overly active until temperatures rise above 20oC at which point they will move to sunny areas to bask. Typically, these areas are characterized as small forest clearings with leaf litter or low plants such as blueberry, juniper or similar shrubbery rather than rock barrens.
The diet of the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake consists primarily of American toads (Bufo americanus) although it will also consume frogs, salamanders, turtle eggs, small mammals and birds.
Threats to this species have been attributed to habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, roads, persecution, collecting, and contaminants. With a defense strategy of flattening and raising its head and hissing, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is often misinterpreted as dangerous and killed as a result. The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is non-venomous.
The Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) is categorized as a species of Special Concern nationally and provincially. The population occurs in small numbers scattered throughout Ontario and Quebec. Although the Eastern Milksnake can be found in a variety of forested habitats such as deciduous forests, pine plantations, bog forests, pine forests and mixed pine-hardwoods, they have a habitat preference for fields, rocky outcrops and marshes. In the spring and fall, Eastern Milksnakes have a preference for upland, possibly migrating to wetland edges in the summer. They also utilize edge habitats such as power-line cuts and railway embankments and have been reported to be in rural areas in and around buildings such as barns, sheds and houses.
Eastern Milksnakes often hibernate communally and suitable hibernation sites include mammal burrows, dirt banks, hollow logs, rotting stumps and rock crevices. They have also been found in old building foundations, stone walls, cisterns, crawl spaces, old wells and basements of older homes.
Human encroachment is of concern as road kill is one of the primary reasons for decline. In addition, habitat fragmentation by roads and residential development reduces the quality of the available habitat. Another contributing factor to its decline is persecution due to the Eastern Milksnake’s resemblance to venomous snakes.
The Great Lakes population of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is categorized as a species of Special Concern nationally and provincially.
The Eastern Ribbonsnake is a semi-aquatic species that frequents wetlands, ponds and streams with a preference for quiet, shallow water with abundant sunlight and bordered by low dense vegetation. Gravid females may move short distances from water prior to giving birth; however, snakes are typically found within 5 m of the wetland, unless the adjacent land is an open field where prey may be found.
From September to October Eastern Ribbonsnakes will move short distances from the water to hibernate in other animal burrows or cracks and crevices created by geological events. It has been suggested that Eastern Ribbonsnakes may be using submerged hibernation sites as all movement away from the water at this time is along the same gradient and not uphill. The Eastern Ribbonsnake suffers from habitat loss related to the availability and health of wetland and littoral habitats and shoreline vegetation, declines in prey (specifically amphibian populations), direct persecution and road mortality.
The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is categorized as Threatened, both nationally and provincially.
Blanding’s Turtles use a wide variety of habitats. A landscape with numerous small wetlands in close proximity has a higher probability of occupancy by Blanding’s Turtles. Blanding’s Turtles prefer small ponds and marshes with emergent and/or submergent and floating vegetation, and mucky substrates. Crustaceans, particularly crayfish are preferred food items. Insects, leeches, worms, small fish, tadpoles and frogs, snails and some plants are also part of their diet.
Blanding’s Turtles hibernate underwater and therefore permanent bodies of water are selected. When they emerge they become highly mobile and will utilize upland habitat for nesting, basking and summer dormancy. Upland habitat that they move through is generally mixed deciduous or coniferous forests. Nesting locations are open with substrates of loose sand or organic soils.
Due to their high level of mobility, Blanding’s Turtles are detrimentally impacted by roads. As well as the incidental crossing of roads by adults, the selection of road shoulders by gravid females as nesting sites increases vulnerability of the adult females and the hatchlings to road mortality and pet/trade collection.
Midland Painted Turtle
The Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) is categorized as a species of Special Concern nationally, and Not at Risk provincially.
The Midland Painted Turtle is a smaller turtle with a smooth carapace, and a head and throat marked with brilliant yellow striping that transitions to red on the neck and forelimbs. The skin and carapace range from olive to black, and the marginal scutes are marked with bright red blotches or lines.
Found throughout central and southern Ontario, the preferred habitat of the Midland Painted Turtle is slow moving, relatively shallow, and well vegetated wetlands with abundant basking sites and organic substrates. Suitable nesting habitat is usually within 1200 m of aquatic habitat and include open south-facing slopes with sandy, loamy and/or gravelly substrate.
The diet of the Midland Painted Turtle shifts with age, with young turtles primarily carnivorous and adults primarily herbivorous. Food consists of a wide variety of invertebrate, vertebrates, algae and aquatic vascular plants with specific food items including insect larvae, fingernail clams and carrion.
The primary threat to the Midland Painted Turtle is road mortality. Incidental crossings during annual migrations as well as the selection of roadsides for nesting increases the vulnerability of adult females and hatchlings. Loss of wetland habitat, and invasive species (exotic turtles, fish and vegetation) also detrimentally impact the Midland Painted Turtle.
The Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is categorized as a species of Special Concern both federally and provincially. This listing was denoted provincially due to a recent contraction of the Snapping Turtle’s range.
Snapping Turtles, Haliburton County’s largest freshwater turtles, prefer shallow, slow moving water so they can take cover under leaf litter and in the soft mud substrate. In Central Ontario, they are found in wetland habitat in ponds, marshes, shallow bays, and on the edges of slow moving rivers and streams. Because they spend so much time in water, algae often grows on their shells, providing excellent camouflage in their aquatic habitat. Females generally nest on sand and gravel banks but may also utilize muskrat houses, beaver lodges, road shoulders, fissures in rocky shorelines and gardens and lawns.
The Snapping Turtle can have a long life, but breeds late in its life cycle. Therefore when a mature female adult turtle is killed, the survival of the species can be drastically affected. Road mortality is a significant threat during the summer, when many venture into the uplands in search of food, mates and nesting sites. At this time they are unintentionally, or sometimes intentionally, targets for vehicles. The use of gravel shoulders of roads as nesting sites exposes them to more intense human interference. Even large, established populations are vulnerable to adult mortality and declines do not recover rapidly.
Check out this video on Snapping Turtles with Dr. Ron Brooks.
The Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) is categorized as Endangered nationally and provincially. This species occurs in small numbers in bogs and marshes, a habitat that is fragmented and disappearing due to human encroachment.
Although the habitat requirements of Spotted Turtles are somewhat ambiguous, a study in Dalton Township in the City of Kawartha Lakes defined the habitat requirements as mainly aquatic with limited terrestrial activity. More specifically, Spotted Turtles in Central Ontario tend to hibernate in bogs and shortly after their emergence, migrate to marshes. The bogs are described as covered with low shrubs and a prevalence of Sphagnum Moss. The marshes are generally shallow, with floating vegetation, sedges, submergent vegetation, and a periphery of low shrubs.
Nest sites are typically within 50 m from a wetland, but may be as far away as 120 m, in areas exposed to full sunlight including soil-filled crevices in the Canadian Shield bedrock. Spotted Turtles also utilize the forested uplands within 80 m of a wetland to aestivate during hot summer months.
Although habitat loss is likely the primary cause of decline, Spotted Turtles are also highly valued by reptile hobbyists due to their small size and bright colours. Road mortality is another cause of decline.
The Stinkpot (Sternotherus odoratus) is categorized as Threatened nationally and provincially.
Stinkpots prefer shallow water with a soft substrate and are rarely found at depths greater than 2 m. In Central Ontario, Stinkpots are found in association with vegetation typically associated with marshes. Stinkpots cannot stay out of water for extended periods of time as they are highly susceptible to desiccation and therefore their home ranges are limited to single bodies of water ranging from 50 – 155 ha in size. A lake with numerous small marshy bays would also be suitable. Hibernation occurs underwater, burrowing into approximately 30 cm of mud.
Stinkpots do not venture onto land except to nest. On the Canadian Shield, Stinkpots nest in rock crevices located on rock faces exposed to direct sunlight. These sites do not need to be immediately adjacent to a marsh as Stinkpots will travel along a littoral zone of a lake to reach a suitable site. Nests are typically found within 45 m of water. The Stinkpot has disappeared over most of the southern half of its range.
Motorboat traffic, fishing and habitat destruction through shoreline development (loss of nest sites), wetland drainage and pollution are the primary causes of population decline. On the Canadian Shield, suitable nesting sites may be limited due to the additional need for direct sunlight to compensate for the cooler temperatures. Therefore shoreline development on the Canadian Shield may be more detrimental than in other areas.
The Wood Turtle (Clemmys insculpta) is categorized as a species of Special Concern federally and Endangered provincially.
Wood Turtles are aquatic hibernators preferring shallow, slow moving, meandering rivers with sandy substrates. Cover is not always required however most hibernate at a depth of approximately 1 m.
During the active season, wood turtles utilize the uplands adjacent to streams and rivers preferring mixed forests near streams that are clear, with hard sand or gravel substrates, a moderate current and a mean width of at least 7 m. Alder thickets and alder swale are the preferred or most used habitats in Ontario and it is unlikely that Wood Turtles would utilize pure conifer stands. Wood Turtles have been located up to 600 m from water, but tend to stay within 300 m of the home stream.
Wood Turtles prefer to nest in sand or gravel-sand beaches and banks, gravel and dirt roads/shoulders and gravel pits if available. Studies have found that 84% of nests are less than 10 m from water with an eastsoutheast to west-southwest aspect if the slope is greater than 20o.
The primary factors limiting Wood Turtle numbers are road mortality, collection for the pet trade and degradation/destruction of habitat due to logging roads, recreational vehicles and stream and river bank alterations.