Reproductive isolation between sympatric taxa can be maintained by specific mate-recognition behaviours or by ecological divergence that reduces interspecific contact during reproduction. Common garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis (L., 1758), and plains garter snakes, Thamnophis radix (Baird and Girard, 1853), are sympatric over large areas, but morphological data suggest that the prezygotic isolation between these two species partially breaks down in a severely cold part of their joint range in Manitoba. Courtship trials show that male T. radix court intensely over a narrower range of (higher) ambient temperatures than do male T. sirtalis. Males selectively court females of their own species, but male T. radix are less choosy than male T. sirtalis. Hexane extracts of female skin lipids also elicited species-specific courtship. Although this male preference for species-specific pheromones contributes to species isolation, it is not strong enough to completely separate the two taxa. The absence of hybridization over most of the sympatric range may depend on the timing of mating (early spring, near the hibernation den). Differences between the species in hibernation-site selection and the timing of spring emergence break down in central Manitoba because severely cold winter temperatures force both species together into the few available hibernation (and thus, mating) sites, and the short warm season reduces temporal separation in emergence (and thus, mating) seasons.