Spring has ended and summer is here full force in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario with the Massasauga Rattlesnake Translocation team, complete with almost record breaking heat and constant swarms of deer and horse flies. At this time of year, gravid massasaugas are looking for safe, sunny spots to spend their mornings and warm the developing babies until it is time to give birth. A good gestation spot should provide both security and an area for thermoregulation and once they find a spot that meets those needs they will generally stick around that area, sometimes never leaving a specific rock. These places have to be sunny and are often composed of what we call “table” rocks (large, flat rocks with empty spaces beneath them), thick juniper bushes, and an escape route that they can retreat into without being harmed or seen. That means that we have had to move out of the bogs and up into the rock barrens for gestation surveys!
Although the advance of summer is quite pleasant with hundreds of ripe strawberries and different summer wildflowers, it also makes finding the snakes more difficult due to the thickening of the foliage on the ground and constant barrage of flies attacking our faces. The heat waves which spike the temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (36 degrees with the humidex as I type this right now), present a very small window to find these snakes before they retreat to the shade of their hiding spots in the rocks and bushes.
The massasauga rattlesnake has a perfectly adapted camouflage for the areas that it occupies. Its dark blotchy pattern set on a greyish background melts perfectly into the surrounding lichen and rock; and conforms with the different shadows inside the foliage from which they hide. They are cryptic creatures that try to avoid as much confrontation as they can and require a well trained eye to find. Nevertheless we are excited to find these future mothers and monitor them throughout their gestation period.
Tune into our next blog post for a little game called “Can you spot the Massy?” We will compile different in-situ photos from the next month and you can try your hand at spotting the Massy!