Date of this Version
Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 41 (2021), pp 71–87.
Gartersnakes are common inhabitants along prairie rivers in the Great Plains, but little information is known about hibernacula among diverse floodplain habitats. We radio-tracked Common Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) and Plains Gartersnakes (Thamnophis radix) to hibernacula on islands in a braided river system subject to frequent environmental changes along the Platte River in central Nebraska. We further examined capture rates of gartersnakes in floodplain woodland patches from June to November to examine seasonal use of this habitat. In early and mid-September, movements of snakes with transmitters were in grasslands. From late September to mid-October, the farthest movements were documented, and snakes moved from grasslands into woodland patches. From late October to January, movements were minimal in and around hibernacula in wooded or formerly wooded habitats. Capture rates of gartersnakes in woodland trapping arrays also increased in October and November, further demonstrating woodland use during times when snakes travel to and reside at hibernacula. Although grasslands comprised most of the prairie islands at the study area, observations suggested that the limited woodlands on these islands are important for gartersnakes prior to and during hibernation along the Platte River in central Nebraska. Areas with large trees, such as Plains Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides), appeared to provide overwintering sites. In central Nebraska, riparian woodlands continue to be cleared to enhance habitat for endangered and threatened species such as Whooping Cranes (Grus americana), but some of these islands originally contained trees prior to European settlement. Conservation of at least some woodland habitats appears important for overwintering gartersnakes in central Nebraska.