Protecting and enhancing the natural values of Salt Spring Island and its surrounding waters

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Reptiles

Salt Spring Island is home to six species of reptiles, including one kind of lizard, four kinds of snakes, and one kind of turtle. Also, two sea turtle species have occasionally been sighted in nearby waters.

 

Salt Spring reptiles are not active in winter, as they cannot maintain a warm body temperature year round. In summer they regulate body temperature by adjusting their exposure to the sun, therefore important habitat components are sun-basking areas and shaded covers.

Reptiles are important to the ecology of the island and are garden-friendly in that they consume destructive invertebrates such as invasive insects, slugs and worms. Reptiles in turn serve as prey for hawks and other native birds.

Three of our reptiles are classified as endangered, that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction. These are the Sharp-tailed Snake, the Western Painted Turtle, and the Leatherback Sea Turtle. These animals lay eggs, a factor that may contribute to their vulnerability. More information on Salt Spring Species at Risk

Land-owners can help conserve native reptiles through habitat protection and habitat improvement. Several suggestions are provided below:

  • Protect natural rock outcrops, rocky crevices, rock piles, logs, stumps, and down wood, all of which are important reptile habitat.
  • Conserve natural areas and native plants including meadows and forest.
  • Avoid mowing and weed-eating native grasses and preserve native shrubs.
  • Protect streams, ponds, tide pools, and foreshore, including waterside vegetation.
  • Provide rock piles, boards, and other shelter devices.
  • Provide waterside basking logs or boards.
  • Avoid disturbing known reptile nest sites and hibernation dens.
  • Prevent domestic cats, which prey upon reptiles, from roaming outside.
  • Avoid chemical slug poisons as they may harm reptiles.

Do not handle or otherwise capture reptiles to avoid stressing them and disrupting their activities. It is illegal to handle or possess wildlife and their eggs without a license or permit.

Please report sightings of endangered reptiles to the Salt Spring Island Conservancy.

Green Sea Turtle

Chelonia mydas  is a large marine animal with paddle-like front legs. Length may be up to 1.5 meters, and the shell is smooth, unlike the ridged back of the Leatherback Sea Turtle. The adult diet is

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Dermochelys coriacea The leatherback is occasionally sighted in the ocean in the vicinity of the Gulf Islands. This is the world’s heaviest reptile and it can measure over two meters in length. The limbs

Western Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta is a relatively common turtle throughout much of its range. In Canada, there are three subspecies which extend from Ontario westward to British Columbia. In BC, the Western Painted Turtle subspecies (Chrysemys picta

Sharp-tailed Snake

Contia tenuis This is a small snake, usually reddish-brown, with a thorn-like tip on the tail, a dark stripe across each eye, and black-and-white barring on the underside. When disturbed, the snake may burrow downward

Terrestrial Gartersnake

Thamnophis elegans This greyish or dark brown snake has two rows of dark blotches along the sides. The mid-body scale row count is usually 21 (10 on each side plus top row) and the two

Common Gartersnake

Thamnophis sirtalis This snake is generally black in color with a yellow stripe along the center of the back and often some red or orange barring along the sides. The mid-body scale row count is

Northwestern Gartersnake

Thamnophis ordinoides Commonly brownish in colour, this snake often has a yellow or orange stripe along the center of the back, and may have dark speckling. The head is hardly wider than the neck, the

Northern Alligator Lizard

Elgaria coerulea This lizard is a dull brown colour with a skin fold along the side of the body. It may reach a length of 20 cm, and is found most often in rocky areas