This one goes out to all the reptile lovers out there - while Snake Island might be entirely off-limits, there is a snake den in Manitoba, Canada, that's completely safe. Visitors won't find venomous snakes there but they will be face to face with the most condensed population of red-sided garter snakes in the world which, many would agree, is far better than the alternative.
The Narcisse Snake Dens are a haven for reptile lovers and provide an inside look into the lives of the small, innocent-looking snakes. It's the only place in the world where visitors can find so many in one place and observe them all together, making this a must-go destination for anyone wanting to learn about snakes and their habits. As part of the Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, the snakes are protected and have lived in the same place following 1999, when the area experienced extreme weather and drove all the snakes to one place - which is the same spot visitors can find thousands of them today. Here's what to expect.
The Creation Of The Snake Dens
There's more to the story of the Narcisse Snake Dens than just bad weather. Poor weather was only the start of what was soon to become the biggest reptile habitat in the area, let alone in the world when it comes to garter snakes. When bad weather struck Manitoba, it was estimated that roughly 70,000 snakes were misplaced, according to To Do Canada. When this happened, the snakes faced more than one problem: not only were their dens out of reach but they also needed to cross a busy highway in order to get back to some kind of safety. The latter became a problem in 1991 as it's estimated that roughly 10,000 snakes are crushed by cars every year, thus volunteers, with the help of Manitoba Hydro, built fences and tunnels to allow the snakes to cross underground rather than using the open road.
Their efforts paid off as they were able to save thousands of snakes from an unnecessary fate. Following this, the red-sided garter snake population increased as many more were surviving the migration season. Now, visitors to the Narcisse Snake Dens can walk various trails to see the snakes that are protected there.
What Visitors Can Expect To See During Their Visit
Of course, thousands of snakes are bound to make an appearance but there's so much more to this snake habitat than just watching them slither through the underbrush. If visitors visit Narcisse during the spring, they're likely to see the snakes engaging in mating rituals. These are easily recognizable due to the sheer number of snakes in one large mass, which is quite a sight to see as these masses can contain hundreds of garter snakes.
Watching the snakes is only one option - outside of the mating season, visitors are free to handle the snakes (carefully!), as well. Garter snakes are completely harmless and are quite gentle, for the most part, therefore, visitors can get up close and personal with them, according to To Do Canada. This is what makes the Narcisse Snake Dens unique as not many reptile habitats will allow visitors to pick up and hold the animals inside. For those who want to handle the snakes but might be a bit hesitant, there are volunteers who are on-site during the spring season. They can be posted nearby for anyone who wants to interact with a garter snake and will be able to offer helpful tips and advice for handling one.
If visitors do want to handle the snakes, they should be aware of some things. While the snakes are mostly gentle, there is still a chance that they could bite out of fear. Luckily, the teeth on the red-sided garter snake aren't likely to break the skin and they're not poisonous in any way. The second thing to be aware of is from the other end of the snake - your hand or arm could become a personal toilet. While this is also quite harmless and also a fear reaction, the scent from it can be strong and might last some time before it wears off.
When To Visit The Narcisse Snake Dens
The Narcisse Snake Dens are open all year round and while the spring season is a popular time to visit, those interested can go at any point throughout the year. A little research can give visitors the best times of the day to visit, as well, as snakes are more likely to be active during certain times over others. The spring and fall seasons are when the snakes are more active, in general, so these are the best times to pick a day to visit.