Many people have a fear of snakes. It is something that was probably baked into our ancestor's brains when humans were first discovering how to make fire. A natural response if you will, to the dangers of snake venom. For some reason that fear has persisted for thousands of years. If one snake is enough to send the shiver down your spine, just imagine what tens of thousands will do. We really do not have to wonder much since there is a place in Canada, just north of Winnipeg, that is home to the largest concentration of garter snakes in the world. In the Province of Manitoba is Narcisse Wildlife Management Area.
During the sunny days of early spring each year, thousands of snakes emerge from hibernation just in time for an annual mating ritual that results in some of the largest snake pits you will ever see. This National Geographic video gives a good look at the Narcisse snake dens and why the spot attracts thousands of visitors every year.
These are red-sided garter snakes and the reason they gather in such numbers is because the Interlake region is home to many sinkholes and caverns in the limestone bedrock. These spots give the snakes a warm place to spend the long, cold Canadian winters below the frost line every year. It depends on the weather, but most snakes first start to emerge in late April or early May—just in time for the mating season.
As you saw here, it is usually the male snakes that emerge first and wait for the females to arrive. Many males try to mate with a single female snake resulting in the famous mating balls that pack the parking lots and viewing platforms in Narcisse every spring. The groups usually disperse afterwards. However, you can still see massive numbers when the serpents return to their winter dens, usually in early September. While some people may find the display disturbing, this is simply part of nature. The snakes provide a prey item for many other animals that live in the area. These snakes are non-venomous, so there is no danger in taking the whole family. If you have a fear of snakes, a visit to the snake dens might be a good, and safe way to face your fears.
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