History of Lake Erie Watersnake Recovery

oh you're kinda cool

a lot of guys

people don't know okay don't think I

know this

Lake Erie water snake but this this is

at home but introducing that I am elated

ministering she's actually our captive

Lake Erie water snake that we use to

introduce our school kids in our

filtering program about Lake Erie water

snakes we actually add a few different

individuals and that all was abandoned

well we had another individual that

from us that was unbanded Lake Erie

water snakes are a subspecies of

northern water snake that were

originally described as having this

reduced color pattern out there on the

island and they are restricted to these

islands in the western basin of Lake

Erie this animal was formerly federally

listed as threatened and state

endangered animals so it was found early

friend Stephen dangers after 1989

because of both population size

obviously we have if you look around the

ideas we had a lot of habitat

destruction who want to build prodigious

clearing those abstracts in a non-stick

from the way and then we also had one of

the most well-documented cases of

population decline under human direction

with persecution so cosmic war actually

clearing out all these epithets they

were coming into contact with these

snakes and then and purposely direct

mating as many as we could so because of

those reasons

the state of nature I have been working

on in the population since right after a

listing I came on as just a graduate

student in 2000 working on a large-scale

telemetry project that we had started

trying to still learn some of the things

that about just the snake life history

that we'll still did not know at the

time just for example about how much

low-lying habitat the snakes we're using

we're in relation to the shoreline they

hibernated and those pieces of

information who are necessary because or

a lot of people don't realize you know

the idea of putting something on the

list of federally threatened and

endangered animals isn't just put them

on the list great you actually want to

develop what's called a recovery plan

that's going to talk about the types of

things that need to happen in order to

hopefully recover those populations to a

point where they no longer need to be

properly protected so those pieces of

information that I feel like I said when

I run were really vital for us to

include and to be able to talk about

when we went ahead and wrote the


which we did in 2003 at that same time

gun is when my role within the

watersnake program shifted so I came on

and I just kind of started as a graduate

student and then by 2003 we had this

recovery plan in place and we've had a

lot of people said that needed to be

back to earth like except to hopefully

recover the population so my role has

changed to recovery plan coordinator in

which I basically oversaw all the things

that that needed to happen we had kind

of a research component so we still

needed to kind of look at the

populations do things like estimate

their population size and density we

were doing things like looking at their

diet what kinds of things were they

eating you know and the habitat

questions where where were they hiding

how much shoreline

they use then also became very involved

with the local land trust groups to work

with them to develop a conservation

easement initiative program that was

kind of focused around the arsenic we

had funds that were made available

through our our Division of Wildlife to

encourage local landowners to place a

conservation easement on their property

that would protect that property

for what for specifically water snakes

and the incentive that the landowner was

that usually when you place a

conservation easement that there's a tax

but vested with the property taxes are

actual low early evening so we started

that and then the other big component

was obviously the convention that there

is this huge human persecution threat to

the water snake so we developed send in

a very very large scale education and

outreach campaign surrounding the water

snakes I'm really just talking about you

know some basic basic life history that

these were not uh venomous species it

was not necessarily something that

people needed to be afraid of that they

were actually a historic and an

unofficial component to the Lake Erie

ecosystem here and obviously we focused

a lot on that next generation on a lot

of the local kids that we have here and

again working with some of the local

land trusts in nature groups we

incorporated a water snake law sentence

of the major camps and so the good news

is that within a very short period of

time we actually were able to achieve

all of those recovery goals basically by

2010 we were able to propose the water

snakes to be removed from the list of

threatened and endangered

and in September of 2011 we actually did

achieve the D listing it became a 2013

species to be removed from the less

threatened the example which is an

accomplishment that were really proud of

most people don't get to come on to the

project and actually get to see the

animal that they've been working about

and actually come off you know usually

it's a lifetime of work and before you

actually get to see something like that

happen but I think a lot of the things

that we were able to do um are really

something that the Fish and Wildlife

Service are proud to talk about all that

this is some this is the way that

recovery should happen we were very

proactive and a lot of those things and

efforts that we put forth especially

again like I mentioned within the past a

protection and management and within the

education and outreach that I think a

lot of conservation programs don't have

the luxury of being that proactive and

again that was because I was very

fortunate and being able to be out here

full time as as a recovery coordinator

kind of making sure we were kind of

meeting our goals and doing all of these

things so right now we are in what is

called the post a listing monitoring

period so

well now that the snakes you listed are

jolly well no they're not gonna throw me

on the street you know virtually still

I'm working with the with the water

snakes obviously when you work with a

species for 1314 plus years that's just

what I've been working on and then our

days that actually goes back 30 plus

years you end up with with one of the

largest actually most robust data sets

for any snake in the world that we can

actually do some really interesting

population biology science with in fact

you know the county where we get pretty

lucky with the data that we've been able

to collect on the types of parameters

that we can ask me first makes in

general that really kind of help just

state biologists interpret I'll just

understand more of the life history of

these animals but again we are in the

post a listing monitoring period so what

that means is that you know once you

remove the federal protection you don't

want it to be like okay yeah we're done

so with this species we are having a

five-year post a listing period and we

continue to do the similar types of

monitoring that

doing all throughout the recovery which

include a lot of the market capture work

so all of our adult animals we put in a

small microchip under the skin all the

pets act that's how we get the majority

of our again our mark recapture data as

well as a lot of our girls data

reproductive data that is you know from

knowing what females is growing keno to

specific sexual maturity when she's

giving birth so things like that a lot

of those from the work encounter so we

continue to do that as well as I am

monitoring their diet which that was a

huge factor that actually helped us

achieve recovery so quickly so early on

him in the study with the water snakes

we noticed that these animals were

coming into the shoreline very

frequently with round gobies so to do as

everybody know it around obvious if you

don't learn around nokia's we actually

have I've brought a couple over here in

the tank over here it's an invasive

species introduced through ballast water

exchange and pretty much it's taken over

the bottom of the near shore waters

around Lake Erie normally when we care

about invasives typically it's a bad


well unless you happens

in which case the water snakes really

ended up taking advantage of this new

food resource as early as nineteen so

the gobies came into Lake Erie about

mid-90s 95 95 96 and by 98 we found our

first samples of gobies and water snake

diet from a liver to uh you know quick

snapshot of the population as far as the

diet analysis by 2001 to 2003 we have

done another subset of you know again

looking at stomach content analysis by

that time the percentage of obese had

was over ninety percent just this past

year this is another year where we're

looking at again what's the percentage

of different prey items in the diet were

at 98 percent Bronco B so this this

mission has become a very critical

component of this animals now existence

so part of the post a listing monitoring

includes looking at goby populations and

their stability beyond that the benefits

that the water snake have died from

eating round gobies through a lot of

research that we've done over the past

ten years since they started eating


a little bigger so they actually

attained larger maximum body sizes than

ever before they actually obtain those

body sizes faster so they grow faster

they have a higher reproductive output

so females are actually producing more

younger female they have higher

survivorship and they have an overall

higher population growth rate and so

when you look at all of those things

combined that basically was the result

the result is a population explosion of

water sakes which is exactly what we've

seen not just here locally on the Lake

Erie islands but also those mainland

water snakes that are living along the

marina is that again a massive amounts

of Covey's are also experiencing these

very large increases in water snakes

that they're that they're seeing because

of these round gobies so for the water

snakes it is a good thing and now comes

the time

a little demonstration to see if Apple

will actually eat around though before

you so you can fancy how they orange who

I put a little eating platform in here

though they can

I might have to take it out but I want

to be able to have something to be done

if she wanted it but normally I think

they are foreign and they'll go down to

exit we'll all the way down to the

bottom of the lake they don't actually

swim around at the top and the one for

fish that would actually go all the way

down to the bottom and it will actually

crawl along in probe the interstitial

spaces of these boulders looking for

gobies that are kind of nestled or

hiding amongst the rocks


at the time of listing it was at 15

1,500 to 2,000 1999

no she's just because she's the captain

so are she we had her since she was

about this banquet dinner for a couple

of years now she's a UH she's actually

three so we had her since she was about

this big and so she's very beautiful

oh yeah another Wild Ones when you pick

them up they are extremely aggressive

which actually leads me to a good point

the snake that captain Frank is holding

and then Eastern boxing which is

actually another species of concern in

Ohio and it's actually another fairly

rare snake just within North America as

well it's only found just in the western

counties surrounding Lake Erie in

Eastern Michigan and the southern

Ontario in Ontario Canada this and

animals listed as endangered Michigan

it's listed as threatened in Ohio it's a

species of concern and from all of our

data because this is another animal that

we continue to monitor through

mark-recapture and we do kind of look

and see how their populations are doing

as well everything that that we are

seeing says that the populations in Ohio

are doing quite well and they're

actually able to exist in fairly

fragmented habitat which you know is it

a good thing considering we have so much

habitat fragmentation that's gone on


the western basin region especially that

Lake Erie marshland area which is what

the fáák snakes are typically associated

with but because the water snakes are so

going back to your breast impression

question they are such an aggressive

species you don't necessarily want to

take a wild water snake okay I don't

like here look it don't you want to like

hold on that's maybe in the museum like

it's not going to be great don't you

want to love this animal it's not really

gonna work so well so what we would try

to do is do other species that were

local again but that were a little bit

more charismatic a little bit easier to

handle to create a positive experience

about snakes in general because for most

people when you're dealing and you're

talking about a conservation issue

around this specific snake if they have

an issue with snakes it's not

particularly this one or that one it's

snakes then John Green so when we would

create this Oh whimpering this positive

experience especially for kids you know

then all of a sudden the attitude

becomes a little bit different so that

was where so

poor job of creating positive atmosphere

for which people were already very about


yeah so are you gonna give me kind of

backlash of people saying hey a little

bit oh and that's a great question

because even right from the get-go and

we really started pushing a lot of the

education in outreach which was mid 2000

we had already started to see a

significant increase in watersnake

numbers by that time and when you start

to talk to people about well this is a

threatened or an endangered species and

they're going out to their box and you

know every morning if they're like I

just saw like 50 of them how can you

tell me that this is in danger like you

don't make any sense so you have to like

talk about scale you know obviously like

you know again pushing and reiterating

the fact that these animals are only on

these islands and yes even though

they're very locally abundant you can't

go to Kentucky and finally Clearwater

sink you know so that that was

definitely part of the education that we

had to pass on another huge component

that we did was pamphlets and brochures

and a lot of outreach about how to deal

with problematic water snakes we

actually developed several different

living with Lake Erie water snakes but

like if you're a boater like what to do

if we get on your boat what to do if

they get into your shed or your window

well at home or they're under your patio

furniture like what kinds of things

these landowners could do in order to

either discourage them or remove them

from certain areas that again try to

discourage lethal means because again we

didn't want to necessarily cut people

and killing them but we didn't

necessarily want people to feel

uncomfortable in their own backyards so

that was that was really how we handle

it and yes it now that we're at 12,000

that makes that that education and

outreach that much more I guess

challenging and it continues to be

something that we have to do it with

Lake Erie islands you know obviously we

get ten fifteen thousand visitors here

every day and those people aren't

necessarily from here so you know again

just talking about that this is

demek and we'll only found here is

something that would probably always

have to do we've really tried to focus

on getting long-term displays at some of

the nature centers and obviously you

know here when they talk with us and in

order to actually incorporate some of

the Lake Erie water snake stuff that

we've done here within our public tours

under brosser so we really try to get

the word out of water snakes where we

have been seeing kind of a leveling out

of the population for a while like I was

mentioning in the mid 2000 we were

really seeing some exponential growth

right now it looks like they're leveling

out because our population estimates

have been fluctuating just a little bit

between that's where it's going between

10 and 12,000 and that's probably where

they'll stay the main predators of the

water snake depend on what life history

stage we're talking so when water snakes

are born naturally they've wide berth

the young of the year about a sizable

pencil like really tiny little basically

decides the night crawler so all of our

birds that would eat a night dollar

we're seeing them you know go through

the lawn and eat water since I've seen


the watersnake don't obey your um

crackling egrets but then when you get

to something like at local she's close

to adult size our smaller male our

smaller females and adult males are

preyed upon by our blue herons and

egrets quite regularly in fact to me

initially when I started working out

here and then as we've kind of

progressed you know through the years

and in totally I started seeing a lot

more and I would have people come in to

have a lot more hair as acres that

they're seen and we actually tried to

work with the crane Creek in Ottawa

National Wildlife Refuge to try to get

some type of data the correlated in a

positive increase in the heron and Egret

population we didn't really

unfortunately they don't really have

anything like a hard number that we can

use to say that yes there definitely are

but we are seeing you know just again

through accounts people seeing these

herons egrets

a lot more frequently and regularly

feeding on water snakes and their dogs

are and on their beach

so they were probably seeing increasing

in those frontiers as well what you

would expect

we actually so just last Harrah had an

RN student that looked at a few

different cosmic deterrence to see which

words there's an excellent product

opening on our products that snake away

you can buy it

Home Depot it's active ingredients are

sulfur and then naphthalene which is

naturally miss again and lot balls

chancellor tested balls as well and then

there was some information kind of

floating around on the internet you know

these kind of home remedies of how do

you keep snakes away that recommended

cinnamon oils so we try to cinnamon oil

those were three that she tested she

actually did find that snake away did

significantly deter water snakes from a

specific area better than the other two

although waffles was the the second

bastian snake away tends to be a little

bit more expensive and mothballs and so

it's like 49 cents box why you know what

I do out and usually when I recommend

that to people and they do use it I

remind them know that you're not going

to names but then your fault my early

standing mama don't really smell that

very beautifully it's time to trade off

for some people just the fact that they

won't have

ball snake no big deal other people are

just like yeah you know it's fine they

don't really get in that often and we

recommend you know these other

techniques like keeping your old cover

keeping it you know a wave you know not

tied up right smack against the dot you

know things like that so is it just um

do you think it's just habitat or

behavior that I mean cormorants really

took off and this this general ecosystem

Lake Erie islands because of because of

gobies - it has been a huge food source

almost unlimited supply for them and is

it you know you don't see cormorants out

on these islands because probably people

are here and other other things but is

it is there some reason why you think

the the snakes are you know becoming

more dominant and instead of being

displaced by cormorants or or vice versa

well I mean we do get the corporate

they're not quite nesting here yet and

that's because their nesting behavior

they they don't like it there's a lot of

people and behaviorally when we know

that water snakes they don't necessarily

prefer if there's a lot of people around

I think intolerance but they are very

tolerant there and they are definitely

what we would consider a very tolerant

species when it comes to the types of

habitats they will utilize clearly with

the type of food source know their

native prey was displaced and in some

cases we don't really see very many of

them anymore because of the Gobi but

they were just happy as can be in

replacing that because food items with

the going and then as far as hibernation

habitats go you know obviously we got a

lot of kind of building construction

that telemetry study I told you we

started with we found that these animal

hibernating anything as long as they can

get below the ground there in people's

crawl spaces there another great time

out there in natural structures like

that Rock fissures and these tree stumps

and root balls that they probably would

have always naturally carbonated it but

I mean really just about anything we so

they are there do you ever find water

snakes up by where the islands to

connect the cormorants are on or water

snakes my sister not very many of them

because of the crazy bird population we

have out there but there are and there's

other snakes out there as well I don't

know if there's enough to sustain both

and Green Island actually it's an

interesting thing is Green Island has

some of the largest water sinks when we

when we go look and look at body size

the islands on green island that's

there's a nesting cormorant population

about um greetings oh yeah there there

I'm sorry I just - what did they eat

before there were go be the native

bottom rollers that we used to have so

which we still have a lot of log perch

it's a type of starter don't I would say

we don't have a lot of time they're

still around but that was a food item

sculpin I don't remember the last time

we about a sculpin and some lamb I mean

it's been quite literally decades man

tom cat which other smaller role head

catfish we just really just don't see

those food items in in their diet and to

learn that again probably just uses

density the density of joke

is outrageous compared to a lot of those

needed and which no again still might be

around what aren't far less that met

rated one of the kids in the other

classes out here that dominant bottom

species by far

being nice

another great question and actually one

that we want

this could be the last question we got

everybody we wanted to kind of know that

if they were eating a lot and so maybe

did some maximum phrase studies and

tried to figure out exactly how many

gobies the watersnake population may be

eating we looked at several different

parameters and kind of as far as their

life history digestive rate maximum prey

and the average estimate for this

population so just considering the Lake

Erie water snake is about a million

gobies per year and the nearshore which

sounds like a lot until you learn that

the estimate of goes-- into the western

basin is about nine point nine billion

however the good news is that that the

foraging haven't head of the water snake

actually directly overlaps with another

species of smallmouth bass to which a

lot of the the regulation and these

harmful effects that we hear about when

I came from

we are effective so these million go

bees that the snakes are taking out of

these mineral waters we would like to

think are actually benefiting our local

smallmouth bass natsu population cells

not all that I'm gonna suggest that we

start moving over to