Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)
Species Status: Endangered (Carolinian population) and Threatened (Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population) in Canada
Action Required: Conservation breeding, reintroduction, population augmentation and translocations
As Ontario’s only remaining venomous reptile, the massasauga rattlesnake has faced widespread persecution, despite the fact that it poses little threat to public safety. In First Nations traditions, the massasauga rattlesnake is the medicine keeper of the land — a reminder to tread lightly and to take only what we need.
An important component of our ecosystems, the massasauga is a relatively small, thick-bodied rattlesnake. Although often confused with other banded or blotched snakes (such as the eastern foxsnake), the massasauga’s distinctive rattle sets it apart. When shaken, the rattle produces a high-pitched buzzing noise that warns animals and people to move away. This snake is very shy and generally avoids human contact. When it is respected and given a wide berth, bites are uncommon. Deaths as a result of massasauga bites are virtually unheard of in Ontario.
Massasauga habitat in Canada includes meadow, peat lands, shoreline habitats, wetlands, bedrock barrens and coniferous forests. Massasaugas are usually associated with water and are generally found within 50 km of the Great Lakes. To thrive, these snakes need open patches where they can sun themselves and hibernation sites like animal burrows, rock crevices or tree root cavities that extend below the frost line.
Massasaugas can be found from Texas all the way north to the Great Lakes Basin. In Canada, they are limited to Ontario, where they live along the Georgian Bay shoreline and in the Carolinian Region.
Massasaugas face a number of threats across their Ontario range, including habitat loss, hits by vehicles, intentional killing and illegal collection for the pet trade. Some populations are particularly small, which makes them extremely sensitive to these threats. For example, the Carolinian Region’s Ojibway massasauga population consists of just one to three dozen adults.
Recommended Recovery Actions
Among other measures, the federal massasauga Recovery Strategy calls for habitat management and protection, along with communication and outreach to reduce killing and collection. For the Carolinian population, conservation breeding and reintroduction are recommended, if feasible, as well as determining the effectiveness of translocations.
What we are doing
Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada helps save Canada’s reptiles and amphibians, including massasaugas, and how you can make a difference.