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Massasauga Rattlesnake

Massasauga Rattlesnake
   Photo: John Mitchell / ROM

Features: The Massasauga Rattlesnake ( Sistrurus catenatus) is Ontario's only venomous snake (another venomous species, the Timber Rattlesnake is no longer present in Ontario). The Massasauga lives in a range of open habitats, where it hunts for small mammals and birds. It shifts its home range seasonally, spending the summer in dry, upland sites, and the rest of the year in swamps (forested wetlands). In winter, snakes hibernate underground in damp or even wet sites such as caves, tree root cavities, and animal burrows.

Status: Threatened Provincially and Nationally

Range: The Massasuga Rattlesnake is found in central North America, from Iowa and Missouri east to Pennsylvania and New York, and north to southern Ontario. In Ontario, Massasaugas are found on the Bruce Peninsula and the eastern side of Georgian Bay, with small, isolated populations at Wainfleet Bog in the Niagara peninsula, and Ojibway Prairie in Windsor.

Threats: Historically, the Massasauga inhabited most of southern Ontario, and declined there as habitat was transformed to farmland and urban areas. Habitat loss and fragmentation as roads are built through their existing range are the main threats today. Human persecution, while still a factor, has likely decreased as public awareness improves.

Protection: The Massasauga Rattlesnake is listed as threatened under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007. The Act protects the species from harmful activities such as capture, harassment, collection, possession, buying and selling, or any other actions that may cause harm to the species. The Massasauga Rattlesnake is also protected under Ontario's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. In addition, the Natural Heritage component of the Provincial Policy Statement under Ontario's Planning Act provides for the protection of significant habitat of threatened species. Populations that occur within national and provincial parks are probably subject to lower levels of human persecution because of interpretive programs that inform park users about the need to conserve the snakes (and leave them alone).

Part of the Wainfleet Bog has been recently protected. A public awareness program has been developed in an attempt to reduce the killing of snakes. The Toronto Zoo publishes a newsletter specifically about Massasaugas called Rattlesnake Tales. A joint provincial-federal recovery team has been formed for this species, and a recovery strategy is being developed. For information about recovery plans for this species, contact the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Recovery Team Web site.

Text Sources: Weller and Parsons 1991; Weller and Oldham 1994

Last Modified Date: April 2010

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