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Endangered Species Program
Conserving and restoring threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems
Lake Erie Watersnake
Nerodia sipedon insularum
The Lake Erie watersnake was removed from of the list of federally endangered and threatened species on August 16, 2011. This species was originally listed as a federally threatened species on August 30, 1999.
Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Endangered species are animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. Identifying, protecting, and restoring endangered and threatened species is the primary objective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services endangered species program.
What is the Lake Erie Watersnake?
Appearance - Adult Lake Erie watersnakes are uniform gray in color or have incomplete band patterns. They resemble the closely related northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), but often lack the body markings, or have only a pale version of those patterns. Lake Erie watersnakes grow to 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet in length. They are not venomous.
Habitat - In summer, the snakes live on the cliffs, ledges and rocky shorelines of limestone islands and forage in the nearshore waters of Lake Erie. During winter, Lake Erie watersnakes hibernate underground.
Reproduction - Lake Erie watersnakes mate from late May through early June. During this time they may be found in large “mating balls” which typically consist of one female and several males. Young snakes are born mid-August through September with an average litter size of 23.
Feeding Habits - Historically, the snakes fed on amphibians and native fish such as madtom, stonecat, logperch, and spottail shiners. However, during the 1990’s the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) an invasive fish, established itself in the Great Lakes and caused population declines of many native fish. Today, 90 percent of the watersnake’s diet is round goby and 10 percent is mudpuppies and native fish.
Range - Lake Erie watersnakes can be found on a group of limestone islands in western Lake Erie, and on a portion of the Catawba/Marblehead peninsula in Ohio. Lake Erie watersnakes that lived on islands more than one mile from the Ohio mainland were protected under the Endangered Species Act. Watersnakes on the Ohio mainland, Mouse Island, and Johnson’s Island were never protected under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, all Lake Erie watersnakes remain protected under Ohio State wildlife law.
Why is the Lake Erie Watersnake Threatened?
Eradication - The snakes are often killed by humans.
Habitat Loss or Degradation - Lake Erie watersnakes declined because of destruction of their shoreline habitat and excavation of winter hibernation habitat for developments.
What Is Being Done to Prevent Extinction of the Lake Erie Watersnake?
Listing - The Lake Erie watersnake was added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and received protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, which included protection from intentional killing and destruction of habitat.
Recovery Plan - As a threatened species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a recovery plan that described and prioritized actions needed to help the snake survive.
Research - Researchers are studying the Lake Erie watersnake to find the best way to manage for the snake and its habitat.
Habitat Protection - Some shoreline areas have been permanently protected as natural areas. New developments are incorporating features that provide habitat for the snakes and measures to minimize coastal shoreline habitat loss.
Community Involvement - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel are working with local communities to develop programs that benefit both the community and the snake.
Public Education - Public outreach programs are raising awareness of the snake, its plight, and its role in the ecosystem.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent the Extinction of Species?
Learn - Learn more about the Lake Erie watersnake and other endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation's plant and animal diversity. Tell others about what you have learned.
Join or Volunteer - Join a conservation group; many have local chapters. Volunteer at a local National Wildlife Refuge, nature center, or zoo.
Support – Support efforts to protect, conserve, or restore natural areas.
Create – Create backyard habitat for wildlife, especially amphibians.
Protect Water Quality - Protect water quality by safely disposing of unused or expired medicines. Never place medicine down the drain, toilet, or garbage disposal where it could impact surface and ground water quality. Also, properly dispose of all hazardous chemicals such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil.
Last updated: March 12, 2018