Snakes

There are six species of snake on Nantucket: eastern garter snake, ring-neck snake, eastern milk snake, northern water snake, ribbon snake, and smooth green snake. Interestingly, Martha’s Vineyard has seven species, but where Nantucket has northern water snakes, Martha’s Vineyard has red-bellied snakes and black racers. None of the species on Nantucket are venomous- none can hurt you!

There are six species of snake on Nantucket.

Clockwise from top left: eastern milk snake, northern water snake, eastern garter snake, northern ring-neck snake.

Here is a quick video on how we capture snakes:

How do we research snakes?
  • Measuring snakes on Tuckernuck Island.
    We capture snakes under plywood boards
  • Each snake gets measured and weighed
    Captured snakes are weighed...
  • This garter snake is about to get measured.
    ...snakes are measured...
  • Measuring the garter snake's head.
    ...checked for injuries and then released.
  • We have collected data on over 200 snakes.
    All the data is noted and entered into a database.
  • The ribbon snake, one of the most elegant snakes on Nantucket.
    Ribbon Snake
  • Ringneck snakes are common but elusive.
    Northern Ring-neck Snake
  • Milk snakes eat rodents.
    Eastern Milk Snake
  • The smooth green snake is only found on Coatue on Nantucket. It is found elsewhere in Massachusetts.
    The very rare Smooth Green Snake

Since 2006, Maria Mitchell scientists have worked with Scott Smyers of Oxbow  Associates, Acton, MA, to document snake populations on Nantucket and Tuckernuck. The research is funded by the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative. Field workers lay out sheets of ply-wood on conservation land (Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Nantucket Conservation Foundation and Nantucket Land Bank) and look under each board every few days throughout the summer. Captured snakes are marked with a unique number, weighed, and measured and then released.

 

Where do snakes spend the winter on Nantucket?

A little bit of a mystery! Snakes need to get beneath the frostline in the winter, but they need a place with the right humidity. A good area is called a hibernaculum. Usually a perfect place is a rocky area with lots of cracks and holes for snakes to disappear into. Nantucket does not have any rock cliffs or extensive rocky areas (the bed rock is about 1,500 feet below the sand) so where do our snakes go???

Some smooth green snakes may use old ant mounds. Other snakes may use the rotted out root systems of old trees, buried electrical boxes, or even house cellars! Recently, staff at the UMass Field Station discovered a hibernaculum for milk snakes. The snakes were using old cinderblock cisterns. This is the first multiple snake hibernaculum found on Nantucket!

Len Germinara shows off the snakes. We measured them and then released them when the weather warmed up.

Len Germinara shows off the snakes. We measured them and then released them when the weather warmed up.

8 milk snakes were found in this old cistern

Eight milk snakes were found in this old cistern.

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