An account of a timber rattlesnake sighting near the flat rocks area of the North Wall has been deemed highly improbable but not impossible by the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO).
The venomous species has been considered locally extinct in Canada since 2001 and has not been seen in the region for decades. However, Kahnawake is within the snake’s historical range.
“The habitat on the North Wall is seemingly ideal for timber rattlesnakes, and the area is home to many species of reptiles and amphibians, including snakes,” said Kahionhanoron Kenneth Canadian, an environmental technologist at KEPO.
While the timber rattlesnake’s bite can be deadly, recorded fatalities are not common. The snake prefers to evade large animals such as humans whenever possible, saving its energy for prey such as mice and insects, according to Canadian.
Although the thought of a venomous snake in Kahnawake is alarming to many, not everyone is appalled by the possibility.
“Finding such a snake could indicate that KEPO’s conservation and environmental restoration efforts are having a positive effect on the local wildlife,” said Canadian.
“Personally, I think it would be really cool if it turns out that there are once again timber rattlesnakes in the area, though I know not everyone would be as enthusiastic as me – and I can understand why.”
According to Canadian, the snake that was reported was most likely an eastern garter snake, which can grow over a metre long and have colour variations.
“They are also known to flatten their head and anterior body when threatened, which could explain how it might be mistaken for a timber rattlesnake,” he said. The eastern garter snake is generally considered non-venomous.
There are other possible species, such as the northern water snake or eastern milk snake, but these are not thought to be likely. No photo was taken of the sighting, and it is impossible to confirm the species with certainty without a specimen, according to Canadian.
The reported sighting caused a stir on social media. While some Kahnawa’kehró:non have cast doubt on the reliability of the identification, others are taking precautions.
“I live in the farm area with plenty of bush and high grass. We have been cutting closer to the bush to be able to see if a snake is around,” said Joyce Diabo.
“I am definitely on the lookout, since my grandbabies play out in the field. We are keeping them closer to the house. There have always been predators in the area.”
Anyone encountering a rattlesnake should immediately retreat to safety and file a report with KEPO as soon as possible, according to Canadian.
“Trying to kill a snake is proven to greatly increase the chances of being bitten because they will defend themselves when necessary,” said Canadian.
“It is always better to be safe than sorry, so never attempt to capture or handle a snake when you cannot be 100 percent certain of what species it is.”
Despite their benefits to the ecosystem, snakes have often been targeted by humans, added Canadian.
“The sad truth is that entire species of snakes have been wiped out by humans in the past due to fear, misunderstanding, and mistaken identity,” he said.
“Snakes in general don’t want anything to do with humans, and likewise we should just leave them be.”
Timber rattlesnakes are generally found in the northeastern United States. They have a brown or yellow body, dark brown or black v-shaped stripes, and openings between the eyes and the nostrils known as pits.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.