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Lake Erie Water Snake
Hibernation Tracking on Kelleys Island
October 19, 2001

This fall Kristin Stanford, a graduate student from Northern Illinois University, was given the project of tracking the hibernation location of  the 15 Lake Erie Water Snakes that were outfitted with a transmitter the last two summers.  This study began on Kelleys Island in July of 2000 and is part of a 2-3 year western basin island study headed by Dr. Richard King and funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Kelleys Island LEWS have been named according to where they spent their active time in the spring and summer.  By mid-October they have migrated to their hibernation locations for the winter. They typically select hibernation locations in the same general area each year.  These areas can be over 300 meters from there active summer locations.

Kristin is verifying the Minshall female location.  During the summer it spent its time along the shoreline.  Kristin found the hibernation location 580 meters inland east of the active location.

The Minshall Lake Erie Water Snake is below the grass probably tucked into a warm crevice. This tracking device transmits signals through the earphones to help Kristin log the exact location.


Taking a GPS waypoint which marks the snakes' exact location from satellites and counting pulses per minute gives Kristin the snakes body temperature.  The Minshall Water Snake's pulses clocked in at 24 pulses per minute.  Kristin will have to look this up on  a table to obtain the temperature.

Documentation is very important to any  scientific study.  Kristin logs hibernation data which includes:                            
  • Date

  • Location

  • Snake ID

  • Frequency

  • Time

  • Temperature

  • Weather Conditions

  • GPS # and Location

  • Substrate

  • Vegetation

  • Distance from Shoreline

  • Elevation

  • Pulse per Minute

  • General Description of Area

  • Photo and Date Photo Taken

The location is marked with a yellow plastic ribbon tied around the nearest tree. This location was identified as grassy with rocks, cedar and white birch trees. These hibernation locations will be monitored at least one more time in November or early December before winter sets in and the island is covered with snow.

The distance between last years hibernation location and this years location is measured and documented. The Minshall female Lake Erie Water Snake is within 14 meters of last years spot! It appears that the hole to go under ground was a few meters away too.

Other location identifiers are measured also.  This time besides measuring from the active location Kristin is measuring the distance from the path.
Once all of the information is documented
 and all the gear is collected, we are off to the next area on the island. In the spring of 2001 a census was taken on Kelleys Island.  Each snake is captured and an ID is inserted on the dorsal side of the snake near the head.  This ID can be scanned so that no snake is counted twice.  In the spring of 2001, 500 Lake Erie Water Snakes were tallied.

Kristin keeps everything pretty well organized and compact in the hatch of the van.  It's important to be able to find something you need quickly considering that the weather conditions on the island could change quickly.
The east shore of the island was a virtual haven for the Lake Erie Water Snakes.  Many spent their active period near and around this boat ramp.  Three snakes from this location had transmitters surgically implanted, 2 females and 1 male. The transmitter is about the size of a AA battery.  Two of the snakes hibernation locations have need found and the third snake is missing.


The east shore is just filled with fossils either imbedded in the large limestone rocks or just scattered in between.  You can hardly not stop to look for one.  Some years ago a visitor to the island found a fossilized bird on this very beach.  In the limestone here we found a fossil in the shape of an angel. 

The hibernation location for the 2 of the east shore snakes was several hundred meters south of the active location. Kristin, and Dr. King for that matter, feel very luck that island property owners have been very cooperative about letting them track snakes on their property.  You never know where a snake will end up!

Two of the east shore snakes were located in the same vicinity at the corner of Harbor and East Lakeshore Drive.  The snake tracked this day was in the ground below short dogwoods, poison ivy, with Willows nearby. The area was described as a rocky edge with large boulders with small pebbles in between.  

The hibernation location was 5 meters from East Lakeshore Drive and over 300 meters from the active summer location.

Here Kristin uses a measuring wheel to determine the hibernation location's distance from the shoreline. 

In the summer of 2000, twenty Lake Erie Water Snakes had transmitters implanted for tracking.  Eleven of these snakes were followed into hibernation that year.
     In 2001 eight more snakes had transmitter implants.  One snake that they know of died and three others had transmitter failures.  

Dr. Richard King and his team of graduate students are now tracking 15 snakes on Kelleys, 10 on Middle Bass, 5 on North Bass, 10 on South Bass, and 2 on Gilbraulter Islands.

Lake Erie Water Snake:  | About LEWS | Richard King | Wetlands |
 | LEWS NEWS | Hibernation on Kelleys Island |

Last updated on Monday, July 31, 2006