Narcisse Snake Dens, The Living Spaghetti
Description: Narcisse Snake Dens is a world renowned spectacle, where tens of thousands of snakes gather to mate each spring and fall, before and after hibernation.
Location: Narcisse is about an hour and a half north of Winnipeg, MB. Click here to find it on Google Maps.
Cost: Entry is free.
Tips: It is all a nice rocky walkway, but make sure to wear good walking shoes as the trail is quite long. Clothing is weather dependent. If you plan on handling the snakes, cologne or a form of washing your hands and arms is a good idea as the snakes release a foul smelling odour! Bring a camera as there are tons of great photo opportunities!
“They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth” Micah 7:17a
Imagine it, large pits containing tens of thousands of snakes slithering together like a living spaghetti! If you are not a fan of snakes, then the Narcisse Snake Dens are definitely not a place you would like to go!
Approximately an hour and a half north of Winnipeg, MB, Narcisse (pronounced naar’-siss) is known worldwide for being one of the only places on the planet where you can see this many snakes in one place. Every spring, as the ground thaws, these “pits” come alive with red-sided garter snakes. At certain times, the snakes converge so densely that you cannot even see the ground!
Manitoba winters are brutal, especially for cold blooded reptiles, like these red-sided garter snakes. The Narcisse Snake Dens are formed in part by deep, limestone bedrock, which makes perfect shelter for these snakes during frigid temperatures. In the fall, these snakes will slither down into the cracks of this limestone, and even further down into small, deep caverns below the frost line, where they hibernate until late April or the beginning of May.
Once spring begins and the ground begins to thaw, the snakes emerge from their underground homes to soak up sunlight and it’s warmth. The males emerge first, and are followed by the larger female snakes. The female’s emergence commences the annual spring mating ritual, where ten or more male snakes will battle to mate with a single female in large “mating balls” as you can see in this video.
In this great a number, these snakes could look terrifying to some. However, the red-sided garter snakes are generally harmless to humans, and can even be safely handled.
Interestingly, they do have slightly venomous saliva, but these carnivores tend to prey mostly on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, worms, and insects.
The red-sided garter snake can be easily identified by a number of features. They are usually dark colored with bright yellow stripes that run most of the way up their bodies. The spaces between the stripes are usually filled with red or orange bars that give these snakes their name.
Females usually give birth to between 10 and 30 live babies during the summer and fall. Newborn red-sided garter snakes need to fend for themselves from the moment of birth. They will reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years, and have a lifespan of up to 4 years in the wild. When in captivity, they can live as long as 10 years.
The Narcisse Snake Dens are definitely an amazing sight to see! It is kind of unsettling, kind of exciting, and definitely unique. If you ever get to go and see them, it is well worth the trip. The best viewing times are in the spring and fall, and regular updates can be found on their official website!
I would like to thank Rachael Dvorski for so generously allowing me to use some of her photos in this article, as well as Nicole Schroeder for accompanying me on my trip to the dens. A special thank you can also be given to Dave, one of the staff members at Narcisse for assisting me in capturing some of the close up video of the mating balls.