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Narcisse Snake Dens come to life, mark summer

 by Twyla Siple, Interlake Spectator

The Snake Lady, Cathy Wasserman, hosted a guided tour and workshop for approximately 20 people as a representative of Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre at the Narcisse Snake Dens on May 6.
 
“We’re doing a tour - talking about the snakes, talking about the area, why the snakes are here and giving people a chance to pick up a snake, get to be more aware of snakes and learn (to) not be afraid of them,” Wasserman told The Interlake Spectator.
 
Wasserman said that she has hosted this tour thousands of times during the past 35 years.
 
“You always have that myth, where people are scared of snakes - they always think that snakes are going to attack. We are going to take a walk around a three-kilometre hike here, talk about the different snakes that are here and hopefully everybody will be more at ease with snakes,” she said.
 
“It’s very fun, it’s great to learn more about the province of Manitoba, so it’s been a good experience,” said Marina Best who moved to Winnipeg from the Alberta with her friend Sarah Hugo. Best said that they heard about the snake dens and felt they should make the drive out to learn more about the new province they call home.
 
Visitors can expect to see up to five species of snakes in Manitoba, but only one in Narcisse, the red-sided garter snake, that inhabit in the network of crevasses and caverns extending to the earth’s surface formed by underground water that erode and collapsed the limestone, in the area. 
 
In their first winter, most young snakes seek refuge in ant hills, animal burrows or any crevasses that will take them below ground. It’s only during their second year that they migrate and establish a den site using scent trails, according to the walking tour guide brochure provided by the province. 
 
The best viewing times are in the latter part of April and the first three weeks in May. During this time, the snakes may be found mating, creating a ball of writhing, slithering potential mates for a single female comprised of up to 25 males until the female chooses her mate. The successful male inserts a gelatin type plug into the female’s cloaca, which she opens when she finds her successful mate. The gelatin plug sends off a scent, a pheromone that lets the other males know she has been mated and they move to pursue another female. Then the other males release themselves from trying to attach to the potential female partner in search of a new one, while the lucky mate that the female chose can stay attached to her cloaca.
 
Sarah Walker of Stonewall said she really enjoyed the tour with her two children, 10-year-old Morgan and five-year-old Lucas.
 
“It was a really great tour, it was very informative and we enjoyed it,” she said. 
 
Her daughter couldn’t have agreed more. “I got to hold it and it was really cool. It felt really dry and scaly, it didn’t feel wet or anything, or slimy.” Morgan said that before she came on the tour that day, she used to be “a little afraid” of snakes, in general, but not anymore.
 
“It was worth it,” her mother said. “We can’t wait to come back when they are a little bit more active, now that we know all the info we know what we are looking for so it would be really fun.” 
 
“It’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s a really cool experience.”


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