Summer and Winter Spatial Habitat Use by the Lake Erie Watersnake
King, Richard B.
Stanford, Kristin M.
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In an effort to provide information to guide habitat management for the Lake Erie watersnake Nerodia sipedon insularum, a federally threatened and Ohio state endangered species, we used radiotelemetry to obtain spatial habitat data for adult snakes during the summer active season and during winter hibernation. During the summer active season, terrestrial habitat use was limited to a narrow band of shoreline. Among individuals, maximum distance inland from shore ranged from 1 to 50 m (mean = 8 m) and linear extent of shoreline ranged from 30 to 1,360 m (mean = 261 m). Winter hibernation occurred at varying distances inland with individual hibernation sites ranging from 1 to 580 m (mean = 29 m) from shore. Habitat use did not differ between males and females. Existing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service habitat management guidelines suggest that ground-disturbing activities within potential hibernation areas (defined as terrestrial habitat within 161 m of shore) should be avoided in winter to prevent harm to hibernating snakes. They suggest further that excavation and removal of shrubs, standing or downed trees, root masses, animal burrows, piled rocks, cliffs, or bedrock within 21 m of shore should be avoided in summer to prevent harm to active snakes. Given that Lake Erie watersnakes have recovered to the point where delisting is being proposed, these habitat guidelines appear to be sufficient. However, maintaining voluntary compliance with habitat guidelines and meeting the need for continued public outreach will be vital to ensure long-term persistence.