Hello folks, the Georgian Bay, Ontario, massasauga team has had quite an interesting month. During our routine gestation surveys of our known gravid females we discovered that one of our mommies had given birth to around ten neonates (newborn babies). Then we found another litter in a separate location….and then another one, and then another one. This was very surprising for us given the time of the month- all these babies were born two to three weeks earlier than anticipated! Needless to say we had to finish setting up our snake lab in a hurry. The plan is to study if neonate massasaugas can be relocated to different hibernation sites and continue to thrive. Remember, the general consensus around massasauga rattlesnakes is that they exhibit what’s called “site fidelity” which means they generally only hibernate at one site for their entire lives. As we have stated in previous blogs (Painted rattles and Dorsal Saddles), we have found young snakes that have been successfully translocated from previous years.

Lead project biologist Eric Jolin poses with a bin full of neonates from one of our sites. These guys had their button painted orange before they were released.

The snakes that we use for the study are birthed from moms with painted blue rattles. We collect them, keep them in captivity until “ingress” (the migration of snakes back to their hibernation sites in the fall), and release them in a new designated site. If the neonates are birthed from parents that we have been observing but do not have blue rattles, then we simply paint their buttons (the first rattle segment present after their first shed) a different colour and release them as they were. We paint their rattles so we can identify them in future years and determine their survivability. For unknown reasons we only have the one litter that is being translocated this year. This is almost four times less than previous years.

It could be that Georgian Bay massasaugas are known to give birth every other year, so we suspect that this year was just the leap year for most of the adult females.

One of the neonates we have taken into captivity until ingress begins. This litter has had their button painted bright red and will be released into their new site in a few weeks. Exciting stuff!

With the advance of what seems like an early ingress we went to check our fence around the hibernation site we are studying, and low and behold we found quite a few snakes on their way back, including but not limited to an eastern hognose, which is another species at risk. That meant it was time to install our traps so we could ID every individual who had left in the spring and is now returning for the winter, it seems that everything is ahead of schedule this year. We have officially re-installed the traps and have opened them to function as they should. Now that true ingress has started it is time to start counting heads and reading pit tags before releasing them back into their places of winter slumber. Spring and fall are both very exciting times for the Georgian Bay massasauga team and we can’t wait to share our next and last blog with you guys, where we will be talking about the end of the season and all the excitement that will have occurred by then. 

Thanks for tuning in!

Josh

An unexpected visitor! This eastern hognose was just traveling through our study site when we found it at the fence. That’s refreshing!