Sharp-tailed Snake Habitat Stewardship

While many people instinctively distrust snakes, the Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis) is small, harmless, and needs our help.  

About the Sharp-tailed Snake

sharpie on thumbThe Sharp-tailed Snake is a small, elusive reptile whose range in Canada is confined to southeast Vancouver Island, some of the Gulf Islands, and one location in the Pemberton area on the BC Mainland. It is the smallest of the 4 species of snakes that occur on Vancouver Island (the other 3 all being varieties of Garter Snakes). 

The Sharp-tailed Snake is a tiny, secretive creature - he'd rather spend his time warming up under a rock than moving around where biologists can spot him. Only about 30 cm long, adult Sharp-tailed Snakes don't bask out in the open; they seek warm spots under rocks, logs, pieces of bark, and human objects such as roofing shingles. The small size and secretive nature makes them difficult to study. "We really don't know very much about them," says Christian Englestoft, the scientific advisor to the Sharp-tailed Snake Recovery Team. "Thanks to landowners that have helped us study the snake we know when they're active. Other aspects of the snake's biology, such as daily and seasonal movement patterns, critical habitat, diet, egg laying, time of hatching are all topics we still need to learn more about."

Where do they live?

Sharp-tailed Snakes are usually found on south-facing rocky slopes of Garry oak and drier Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems, habitats that are themselves threatened. As more and more people move to this region, Sharp-Tailed Snake habitat is threatened by development. Cars, cats, pesticides, weed-eaters, and loss of sunny micro-habitats also threaten these rare snakes.

The good news is that Sharpies and humans can co-exist, if landowners take a few simple precautions. These include leaving natural covers and hiding places, controlling invasive plants, providing a pesticide-free environment, and protecting south-facing slopes. Because there are no legal requirements to protect endangered species on private lands, voluntary stewardship by landowners is critical for habitat protection.

What do they eat?

They feed primarily on small molluscs, such as snails and slugs, and probably hunt at night.  

Can they hurt me?

Sharp-tailed Snakes are harmless.  They have no venom, and will not bite even if disturbed.  Unlike Garter Snakes, "Sharpies" will not try to get escape when found, but instead typically coil up and remain motionless.

How can I identify the Sharp-tailed Snake?

It is easy to confuse baby Garter Snakes with Sharpies, but with a bit of knowledge and practice, identification is easy.  You can download and print a Sharp-tailed Snake Identification Guide (pdf) from the BC Ministry of Environment.  Alternatively, take a picture of the snake and send to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will help you identify it.

Further reading

Check HAT's Publications page for results of our surveys on Vancouver Island and some of the Gulf Islands.

In 2005, HAT produced a data layer identifying potential habitat for Sharp-tailed Snakes in the CRD.  The layer is publicly available through the CRD Community Atlas

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Assessment and Status Report on the Sharp-tailed Snake (2009) (pdf)

BC Ministry of Environment Recovery Strategy for the Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis) in British Columbia (2008) (pdf)

The Salt Spring Island Conservancy also has a Sharp-tailed Snake Virtual Habitat Assessment tool online to help you assess your own property's Sharpie potential.

 

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