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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

Herpefauna of the Month

Massasauga Rattlesnake

By: Heather MaCrae, Programs and Outreach Coordinator

One of the amazing snakes that calls Ontario home is the Massasauga Rattlesnake. It is a stout-bodied snake that grows to be between 47 and 76 centimeters in length. Its colouring is a grey to brownish grey with darker blotches along its back and alternating blotches on the side.

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake which is the reason that they have unfortunately gained a reputation for being frightening and aggressive. The reality is that they are a timid animal and if someone were to come near them in the wild, they would try to find a hiding spot and camouflage with their surroundings to remain undetected. If that person were to continue to encroach on their territory, it would then use its rattle to warn them to not come closer. Other species of snakes in Ontario like the Eastern Milk snakes and Eastern Fox snakes will sometimes imitate a rattlesnake when they feel threatened by vibrating their tails while hitting dry leaves to make a similar sound.

The only time a Massasauga Rattlesnake would bite someone is if they were ignoring the warning signs and either trying to pick them up or accidentally stepping on/right beside them. All of these situations can be easily avoided. If you’re walking in an area where they are known to live, simply look where you’re walking, and if its night time makes sure you have a flashlight. Also, wear appropriate hiking gear like close-toed shoes and pants. Lastly, if you can hear the rattle of the snake you should stop and identify where it’s coming from and then respect its distance.

Getting bit by a Massasauga Rattlesnake in Ontario is extremely rare. In the last 30 years there have only been, on average, 2 or 3 individuals that have been bitten each year. Furthermore, none of those incidences resulted in fatalities. This is partly because the Massasauga Rattlesnakes are only designed to have enough venom to take down small animals like mice, and partly because of advances in modern medicine and easier access to medical facilities. In fact, in Ontario no one has died from a Rattlesnake bite over half a century.

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is a threatened species in Ontario due to a variety of factors like habitat fragmentation and destruction, road mortalities and human persecution. Easy ways to help the species is to brake for snakes, report sightings and to educate yourself and others. This incredible species should not be feared; it should be cherished and protected.