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!
Here is a quick video on how we capture snakes:
How do we research snakes?
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!