Massasauga rattlesnake. Photo: Mike Kent
When WPC began working with massasauga rattlesnakes in the Ojibway Prairie in southwestern Ontario, field teams were spotting them in the wild. However, not a single massasauga has been seen since 2019, suggesting they may have become locally extinct and now require reintroductions to bring them back – work which we are well prepared to begin.
Reintroductions of temperate snakes are very challenging due to high rates of post-release dispersal and mortality. Snakes in northern climates use animal burrows to overwinter in (hibernacula). In addition to identifying natural hibernacula, WPC has been experimenting with artificial designs. Pioneering with eastern gartersnakes in 2019, the team carried out the first successful overwintering of 12 massasaugas, all of which survived in good health and were returned to the conservation population in spring.
The team continues to mitigate the threats to the original population, through habitat enhancements in a combined area of over 10 hectares, involving garbage removal (1,500kg removed in 2021), controlling invasive plant species like phragmites, and creating beneficial woody debris features that snakes require for cover. Creating safe habitat for massasaugas means a haven for other species. In 2021 we had 161 observations of at-risk reptiles, and almost 3,000 observations of other endangered plants, birds, and insects. Habitat restoration will benefit these species as well.