An Expedition to Find and Photograph in the Wild
Every Snake Species Native to Canada
Compared to such iconic animals as beavers, loons, moose and polar bears, Canada's snakes don't receive much attention. Yet snakes are one of the most fascinating, if little known, of our wildlife. In total, Canada is home to 33 native snake species, ranging from the giant tree-dwelling black rat snake to colourful milk snakes to venomous night snakes. Snakes are crucial to healthy ecosystems, helping keep rodent and other species in check. But of Canada's snakes, twelve are endangered and one is believed to be already extirpated, while three others are threatened.
Although he's best known for his long solo canoe journeys, such as crossing nearly 4,000 kilometres of Canada's Arctic alone, professional adventurer Adam Shoalts grew up catching snakes in the woods around his home in rural Ontario. As a student, he worked for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources, participating in massasauga rattlesnakes field studies. Today, Shoalts is the Westaway Explorer-in-Residence at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and while he usually does expeditions mapping rivers, searching for archaeological sites, or ultra-long distance canoe journeys, he still has a keen interest in snakes. In 2018, Shoalts led a special expedition for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society to find and photograph in the wild Canada's rarest snake, the endangered Blue Racer. The success of that expedition is what led to his idea for The Great Canadian Snake Quest, to see if, over the course of his adventures, he can find and photograph each of Canada's different snake species in the wild. To date, Shoalts has encountered 12 of Canada's 33 snakes on his expeditions. The quest will not only focus on finding and photographing each of Canada’s native snakes but in the process bring attention to the threats they face.
Going wherever it takes to find snakes! Adam Shoalts on an expedition.
The IUCN Species Survival Commission reports that almost one fifth of the world’s reptile population is currently faced with extinction. A recent study identifies six major threats to global reptile populations: “habitat loss and degradation, introduced invasive species, environmental pollution, disease, unsustainable use, and global climate change” (BioScience 2020). Canada’s twenty-five snake species are facing similar survival challenges, with twelve species listed by COSEWIC as at risk of extinction and another, the timber rattlesnake, already classified as extirpated.
By finding snakes in the wild we hope not only to generate excitement and striking visuals, but to increase awareness of many little-known species. By doing so, we can ensure Canada’s snakes survive in the wild. The results from each successful snake search (in the case of rare or endangered species) are reported to citizen science initiatives and other wildlife organizations, which rely on such volunteer sightings to determine where elusive species live. Follow Adam's adventures to see when and if he can find and photograph all of Canada's snake species.
Fast Facts. Did you know?
33 different species of snake are native to Canada.
Of these, thirteen are endangered and one is believed to be already extirpated, three others are threatened.
Canada’s largest snake, the Black Rat, grows over five feet long and lives in trees.
Four Canadian snakes are venomous to humans, though one of the four, the timber rattlesnake, is believed to be extirpated from Canada.
Snakes are crucial to healthy ecosystems, helping keep rodent and other species in check.
Snakes are found across a diverse variety of habitats, from mountains to deserts to forests to wetlands, highlighting Canada’s geographical diversity.