Snake unique to Lake Erie

saved from extinction

The Lake Erie watersnake, a subspecies of the Northern watersnake found only on Lake Erie’s islands, was brought back from the brink of extinction. With the watersnake’s population nursed back to nearly 12,000 animals, it became just the 23rd species to be taken off the federal Endangered Species list.


The Lake Erie watersnake was driven to the brink of extinction in the 1990s by residents of the Lake Erie islands who considered it a nuisance and killed thousands of the snakes. Development also destroyed much of the watersnake’s natural habitat. The federal government placed the watersnake on the Endangered Species list in 1999. That listing prompted the development of a recovery plan, which established population goals for the species, made it illegal to kill or harm the snakes and protected its habitat. Intensive education and outreach programs increased public awareness of the snake, its plight and its role in Lake Erie’s ecosystem. Those efforts built public support for protecting the snakes — which aren’t poisonous but will bite when threatened — and even landed the snakes a spot on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” show.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat
  • Endangered species


A person holds a Lake Erie watersnake for others to view

The Lake Erie Watersnake, shown here, is only found on Lake Erie’s islands. Credit: David Surovec, Ohio Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

The Lake Erie watersnake population is approaching 12,000 snakes. In 2011, it became just the 23rd species — joining the bald eagle, American alligator and the peregrine falcon — to be removed from the federal Endangered Species list. About 300 acres of the watersnake’s inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline also were protected.