The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Lake Erie Water Snake

Once threatened, now on the rebound!

While exploring the islands in Lake Erie, I stopped in at Ohio State University's research center on South Bass Island.

I met with Kristin Stanford (The Snake Lady) in her newly renovated lab.

Renovated lab for snake research

The Lake Erie Water Snake (LEWS) was classified as threatened -- and almost made the endangered list -- back in the late 1990s. At one time it was estimated that fewer than 2,000 of these snakes were living on the Lake Erie Islands. 

The "Snake Lady" Kristen Stanford

The subspecies of this snake that lives out on the islands, Nerodia sipedon insularum, has possibly the most restricted range of any snake in the world as it just lives on a handful of islands in the lake. A related subspecies lives along part of the Lake Erie shoreline, but these are generally darker in color and only make it out to the island if they stowaway on a boat (which they occasionally do).

The population of the LEWS has rebounded to over 10,000 on the islands. Conservation and education efforts have helped restore their numbers. The round gobi, an invasive species of fish, has also helped the coming over for dinner.

Do we owe the round goby our gratitude?

These jars (below) are filled with the stomach contents from captures and released LEWS. Virtually every meal eaten by these snakes consisted of round goby. This invasive fish has flourished in Lake Erie. It is estimated that there are 35 of these fish for every square meter of lake bottom near the islands. 

The LEWS no longer has to search far for a meal!

Round Goby -- it's what's for dinner!

Snake tag (implanted under the skin)

Work with the LEWS is ongoing. The process of gathering and tagging the snakes was featured on an episode of Dirty Jobs.
Learn more HERE.

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