Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)
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.
Massasaugas can be found from southern Illinois 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, road mortality, intentional killing and illegal collection for the pet trade. The two populations remaining in the Carolinian region are particularly small, which makes them extremely sensitive to these threats.
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.